ROME (Reuters)–Italian Prime Minister Massimo D’Alema on Wednesday slammed commen’s by his Turkish counterpart Mezut Yilmaz over the extradition of Kurdish leader Abdullah Ocalan as "unacceptable."
Yilmaz earlier on Wednesday said Italy would be an accomplice to mass murder if it did not hand over Ocalan. "Italy will not be subjected to unjustifiable intimidation," D’Alema told a news conference.
Italy answered Turkey’s demand that it hand over Ocalan by insisting on Wednesday it would stick to the letter of the law.
D’Alema told Turkey’s ambassador to Rome Inal Batu that Italy "had dealt with and would continue dealing with (the case) in full respect of the principles of our judicial procedures," D’Alema’s office said in a statement.
The statement was released shortly after Turkish Prime Minister Mesut Yilmaz said Italy would become an accomplice to terrorism unless it extradited the leader.
A Kurdish man’set himself on fire on a Rome street on Wednesday in the latest of a wave of protests by Kurds across Europe to demand that Italy grant political asylum to Ocalan–leader of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK)–the Italian news agency ANSA reported.
D’Alema told Batu in a meeting he hoped the thorny diplomatic issue "would not reflect negatively on relations between the two countries," D’Alema’s office’s statement said.
He reminded the ambassador that Italy was one of the staunchest backers of Ankara’s bid to join the European Union.
Yilmaz said earlier on Wednesday that unless Italy handed over Ocalan "not only will it remain a stain on their record–but they will also become accomplices to every murder ever committed by the PKK."
Ocalan was arrested after arriving in Italy on a false passport on Thursday and the Turkish government immediately asked for his extradition–accusing him of blame for the deaths of 30,000 people during the PKK’s 14-year war for Kurdish self-rule in southeast Turkey.
In an interview published on Wednesday–Ocalan urged Italy not to bend to Turkish pressure and to grant him asylum so he could work with Europe for a peaceful solution to the conflict.
"I ask Italy to mediate between us and Turkey for a political solution to the Kurdish issue…We are ready for dialogue with Turkey–Europe and the United States," Ocalan was quoted as saying in the Rome daily la Repubblica.
"I can’t believe Italy could be so cowardly as to hand me over to Turkey or Germany," he added.
Germany has an international arrest warrant out for Ocalan–but has said the case must be settled between Italy and Turkey.
Sweden’s chief prosecutor is also seeking to question the PKK chief on the murder of Swedish Prime Minister Olof Palme.
Under the Italian constitution–a suspect cannot be sent to a country which imposes the death penalty. Turkish government attempts to scrap capital punishment specifically to have Ocalan extradited have run into trouble because of uncertainty over the future of Yilmaz’s minority coalition.
Turkish officials were angered by commen’s in the last few days by parties in Italy’s ruling center-left coalition in favor of granting asylum–which have been interpreted as meaning Italy is unlikely to grant the extradition.
Fabrizio Abbate–undersecretary to the defense ministry–said on Wednesday he did not think the government would meet Turkey’s request. "I don’t think we will grant extradition," he told reporters.
According to Italian legal procedures–if the Rome Court of Appeals were to give the green light for extradition–Italy’s justice minister then has the final word. But an interior ministry commission is likely to rule on Ocalan’s political asylum request first–an interior ministry spokesman’said.
Some 4,000 Kurdish supporters from all over Europe have gathered in Rome to hold what has so far been a largely peaceful vigil in support of Ocalan’s request for asylum.
"All over the world–in England–Belgium–Germany–France–Kurdistan and Turkey–there will be lots of bloodshed. Because everyone–each Kurdish person–is ready to die for him," said Kurdish protester Husseyn Kilic.
In his interview with la Repubblica–Ocalan reiterated his repudiation of guerrilla violence.
"We have abandoned terrorism and we are ready for a peace accord," Ocalan said. "Coming here–I took an important step…Italy–do not betray me!" he said.