ROME (Reuters)–Prime Minister Massimo D’Alema made clear on Monday Italy would not submit to blackmail or threats over the extradition of Kurdish leader Abdullah Ocalan and said Rome’s Court of Appeals would rule on the case.
In his first commen’s on the arrest of the leader of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK)–D’Alema said Italian procedures did not permit for extradition to a country where capital punishment was still in force.
"As far as the Ocalan extradition is concerned it will be done according to the procedures of our country…which do not allow for extradition if that country has capital punishment," D’Alema told his weekly news conference.
Italy’s post-World War Two constitution abolished the death penalty for civilians and forbids extradition of suspects to countries where convicted criminals can be put to death.
The Ocalan case was developing into a serious diplomatic standoff between two NATO allies. Italy and Turkey locked horns earlier this year when Rome accused Ankara of doing little to halt thousands of Kurds leaving the Turkish coast later to arrive on Italy’s southern shores.
D’Alema–an ex-communist who came to power three weeks ago at the head of Italy’s second center-left administration–said he was concerned about the plight of an Italian prisoner held hostage by inmates in an Istanbul jail.
"This episode of hostage taking of an Italian citizen–it is not clear to me how a person can be captured and held hostage inside a jail," he said. "I hope the Turkish authorities will agree to his extradition to Switzerland."
Inmates at the jail on Monday refused to free Mario Calascibetta–who is serving time for drugs offenses–to put pressure on Italy to extradite Ocalan.
"Our country does not intend to submit to blackmail–threats–pressures or conditions of any kind," D’Alema said.
Ocalan was arrested at Rome’s Fiumicino airport on Thursday and the Turkish government has asked Italy to extradite him. Turkish authorities have yet to deliver all papers relating to the Ocalan case to Italy’s justice ministry.
Underscoring the Italian government’s doubts over extradition–D’Alema said it was difficult to catalogue the situation of the Kurdish people as solely in a terrorist framework.
"I believe it is a very dramatic situation which involves various countries in which the Kurdish people live and which is marked by a struggle for the affirmation of national rights," he said.
"It is an ancient situation which has known many episodes of violence and terrorism from one side and another. This situation cannot be defined in its entirety as terrorism," he added.
D’Alema’s commented on the Ocalan case just hours after Turkish Prime Minister Mesut Yilmaz told Italy a country that set Ocalan free could not be considered a country of justice.
"This murderer is responsible for the deaths of 30,000 people," Yilmaz told a news conference. "No country that shelters or protects him or allows his activities or sets him free can call itself a country of justice."
D’Alema said Ocalan had applied for political asylum and his request would go through the usual procedures and would be considered by a commission of Italy’s interior ministry as do all asylum requests. "Italy is a democratic country…it is a country of justice," he said.
Meanwhile–Ocalan was quoted as saying on Monday he was ready to help stop terrorism as Turkey pressured Italy to allow his extradition.
"I am ready to do my part to halt terrorism," Ocalan–was quoted as saying in a statement issued to Italian news agency ANSA.
"I have come to Italy…to create the conditions for a political solution," said the statement–which ANSA said it had received from a spokesman in Rome for the ERNK–the political wing of the PKK.
"I will stay faithful to the values of the Italian people and I will respect Italians’ laws and interests," Ocalan said in the statement.
Turkish Prime Minister Mesut Yilmaz said Monday no country that freed him could consider itself a home to justice.
"This murderer is responsible for the deaths of 30,000 people," Yilmaz told a news conference.
"No country that shelters or protects him or allows his activities or sets him free can call itself a country of justice," he added.
Foreign Minister Ismail Cem and Defense Minister Ismet Sezgin–in Italy for a meeting of the West European Union–pressed for Ocalan’s extradition and for a crackdown on PKK support organizations in western Europe.
But a dispute with Italy over Ocalan could further complicate Ankara’s relations with the European Union–which last year left it off a shortlist of possible new members.
President Suleyman Demirel will raise the issue of PKK activity in Europe with current EU term president Austria when he visits Vienna this week–a foreign policy aide told Reuters.
The Istanbul Chamber of Commerce made clear its views in a message to Italian business. "To not hand over Ocalan–head of a terrorist group–would greatly damage Turkish-Italian trade ties–and could lead to a boycott of Italian goods," the group said in a statement.
Italy is the second largest exporter to Turkey–with sales totaling $3.14 billion in the first nine months of 1998.