PKK leader's demand for press meeting gets harsh reaction from opposition

Imprisoned PKK leader Öcalan stands in a glass enclosure as the judge pronounces his death sentence on İmralı Island in this June 29, 1999 file photo.

Opposition parties find it unbelievable and not in line with the principles of democracy for the jailed leader of the terrorist Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) to have asked for permission from the government to meet with the press to more effectively contribute to the settlement process.
“How in the world could one think such a thing could be possible?” Haluk Koç, spokesperson of the main opposition Republican People's Party (CHP) asked. Demanding to know if the government had promised Abdullah Öcalan, the PKK's jailed leader, that he would be freed as part of the ongoing settlement process, Koç harshly criticized the government for conducting the settlement process in a totally nontransparent way, keeping the public in the dark.
The ruling party has been in talks with Öcalan since the end of last year to resolve the country's decades-old Kurdish issue and terrorism problem. Two deputies from the pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party (BDP), traveled on Sunday to İmralı, an island in the Sea of Marmara where Öcalan is kept in prison, to accelerate the settlement process amid signs of setbacks as the PKK is seemingly slowing down the withdrawal of its forces from the country.
In a written statement the BDP made after BDP Co-chairperson Selahattin Demirtaş and Parliamentary Group Deputy Chairwoman Pervin Buldan met with Öcalan, it said that the leader of the terrorist PKK wanted to meet with the press to be able to make a stronger contribution to the settlement process. “If I could get a chance to directly inform the public by getting together with the press on İmralı, I might offer a substantial contribution for the process to move ahead in a healthy way,” Öcalan said in the statement.
But Öcalan's call got a strong negative reaction from representatives of both the CHP and the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP). He wondered if the government would also allow thousands of other people who are in prison, some of them without having been convicted, such as CHP deputies Mustafa Balbay and Mehmet Haberal, to meet with the press. “[Öcalan] already has the possibility of indirectly speaking to the press,” Koç told Today's Zaman, in reference to visits BDP deputies have made to İmralı to meet with Öcalan.
During the eight visits, the BDP deputies get instructions from Öcalan on how to proceed in the settlement process, while at the same time, communicating to Öcalan the opinions of other leading people in the PKK who are based in the headquarters of the terrorist organization in the Kandil Mountains in northern Iraq.
For Oktay Vural, the parliamentary group deputy chairman of the MHP, Öcalan's request is scandalous and tragicomic. Referring to the fact that Öcalan had been described by the Turkish state as a killer of babies for many years, “How dare a baby killer think of shaping, directing politics in Turkey?” Vural demanded to know.
Noting that the PKK leader is serving an aggravated life sentence, “In democratic countries, it would be taken as an insult to the rule of law even to think that such a thing could take place,” he told Today's Zaman. Oktay sarcastically added: “My call is that [Prime Minister Recep Tayyip] Erdoğan and Öcalan should jointly conduct a press meeting to inform the public about the settlement process.”
CHP Deputy Chairman Faruk Loğoğlu joined Vural in suggesting, in a sarcastic way, that a government representative and Öcalan may in the near future hold a joint press meeting. In a press meeting in Parliament on Monday, Loğoğlu implied that Öcalan might have put in his demand for a press conference after consulting with the government.
In the BDP statement, Öcalan also said the government should take concrete steps to accelerate the process at a time when the situation beyond Turkey's borders worsens. Although there has recently been disagreement with representatives of the pro-Kurdish BDP and the ruling party as to the number of PKK terrorists who have so far withdrawn from Turkey, with Interior Minister Muammer Güler maintaining about a month ago that less than 20 percent of the terrorists had left Turkey, Öcalan urged both the Turkish state and the terrorist organization to avoid any mistakes that could harm the fragile settlement process. The government insists that all PKK terrorists should withdraw before the government takes steps that are part of the second phase of the settlement process.
For the PKK leader, the process is still on track, but still, he made a point of warning the government, saying, “I desire to be able to pass, at the beginning of September, on to negotiations of the third stage, which is ‘normalization,' in the process after making headway in the second stage.” Öcalan also made it clear he thought the government should act fast in view of the developments in the region, so that the process proceeds in a healthy way. “The government is expected, some time before Parliament reconvenes, to take some concrete, practical steps,” he said.
Mehmet Özcan, chairman of the Ankara Strategy Institute, also doesn't think Öcalan should be allowed to meet with the press. “No country in the world allows a convict to meet with the press,” he told Today's Zaman. Such a get-together with the media would create the impression that Öcalan is no longer a prisoner serving a life sentence, he commented.
According to Özcan, the PKK doesn't seem to act totally in line with the instructions of Öcalan as regards withdrawal from Turkey. “Öcalan should instruct the terrorists to leave Turkey instead of trying to meet the press,” Özcan said. He believes the messages Öcalan would give in a press conference would just for Kurdish people and the international public. 
According to a news agency close to the terrorist organization, 21 representatives of various political parties and non-governmental organizations from Turkey have arrived in Erbil, capital of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) in northern Iraq, to attend the preliminary meeting of the Kurdish National Conference on Monday. In the national conference, expected to take place in September, representatives of Kurds in various countries in the Middle East will come together to jointly determine a line of action for Kurds who, although usually not openly expressed, strive to establish an independent Kurdistan in the region.  
The delegation from Turkey, which is to attend the conference, includes Ahmet Türk, co-chair of the Democratic Society Congress (DTK), and the BDP's Demirtaş. Massoud Barzani, president of the KRG is to host the conference.
Recently, there has also been speculation about Öcalan's health, but Öcalan affirmed in the BDP statement that his health condition is stable and that he has no serious illness. However, the PKK chief said he wants an improvement in his conditions in the prison, enabling him to directly communicate with the outside world, namely with the media and the public.
The Turkish government has been holding talks with Öcalan since October to find a peaceful and political solution to the decades-old Kurdish dispute and to the armed conflict. Öcalan called on PKK militants to withdraw from Turkish soil to northern Iraq in a message on March 21, on the day of Nevruz, the spring festival of Kurds. The PKK announced on May 8 that it had begun to withdraw its forces from Turkey.

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