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10 arrested as trial begins in Turkey for Habur returnees

ISTANBUL - Daily News with wires | 6/17/2010 12:00:00 AM |

Ten members of the group of returnees who entered Turkey via the Habur gate in October were arrested Thursday at the first trial of the court case against them.

Ten members of the group of returnees who entered Turkey through the Habur border gate in October were arrested Thursday at the first trial of the court case against them.

The group, comprising eight members of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, and 26 residents of the Makhmour refugee camp in northern Iraq, returned to Turkey as part of the government’s democratic initiative to resolve the Kurdish issue in the country. All the returnees, with the exception of four minors, are standing trial in three groups at two separate courts in the eastern city of Diyarbakır.

The hearing Thursday included 16 people, 10 of whom were arrested by the court on grounds that they pose a flight risk. The remaining six will be on trial without arrest.

The charges against the group were brought in two separate indictments regarding the festivities that welcomed them back to Turkey and the statements they gave at various times and locations afterward. The group reportedly re-entered Turkey in response to a call from convicted PKK leader Abdullah Öcalan and was welcomed at the Habur gate with ceremonies that sparked unrest in other parts of the country.

The PKK has been listed as a terrorist organization by Turkey, the United States and the European Union.

The eight PKK members in the group are on trial for “being a member of a terrorist organization” and “making propaganda for a terrorist organization” and each face 20 years in prison. The returnees from Makhmour, who each face a potential 15 years in jail, are being charged with “committing a crime in the name of a terrorist organization without being a member” and “making propaganda for a terrorist organization.” A total of 25 lawyers are defending the group.

The court informed the suspects that separate indictments had been prepared for each of them and merged before the trial, then asked for their defense. Suspect Mustafa Ayhan said group members would offer a joint defense and read the text.

A group calling itself the “Peace Parliament of Turkey” held a protest march from Dağkapı Square to the Diyarbakır courthouse. Members carried a banner reading, “Peace is on trial, be a witness,” and chanted pro-Öcalan slogans.

Politicians from the pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party, or BDP – including Co-General President Gülten Kışanak; deputies Bengi Yıldız, Osman Özçelik, Şarefettin Halis, Nezir Karabaş and İbrahim Binici – came to the courthouse Thursday, as did Diyarbakır Mayor Osman Baydemir and Selim Sadak, the independent mayor of Siirt. Yıldız and Karabaş entered the hearing while the others remained in the bar association’s chambers.

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