Avenging Ocalan

In the wake of a death sentence against their leader Abdullah Ocalan, Kurdish rebels stormed a coffee house late Thursday and reportedly killed four civilians.

The assault, which also wounded four people, came two days after Ocalan was condemned to death for treason and separatism. The two attackers were shot dead by police, and an officer was wounded, Turkish media reported.

Gov. Lutfullah Bilgin of Elazig city told private NTV television Friday that the officer was in critical condition after brain surgery.

Also Thursday, a time bomb went off at an Istanbul coffeehouse, injuring three civilians, NTV reported. Suspicion fell on Kurdish rebels.

In another attack, a policeman was killed late Thursday when suspected Kurdish rebels opened fire on a police guard post in the southeastern province of Van, the Anatolia news agency reported. A second police officer was slightly injured.

On Wednesday, police arrested 10 Kurdish militants suspected of planning bombings. Police seized 40 explosive devices, including hand grenades.

Meanwhile, troops killed 22 Kurdish rebels in clashes Thursday in the southeastern provinces of Hakkari, Batman, Bingol and Sirnak, the Anatolia news agency said. Four soldiers were killed.

Rebels have vowed to step up attacks as revenge for the verdict against their leader, who remains jailed in a heavily guarded island prison.

The rebel group, Kurdistan Workers Party or PKK, said it would not remain silent on the verdict, the Kurdish daily Bakis reported Friday.

Â"This is a very dangerous step. This decision has to be corrected before it is too late,Â" Bakis quoted the group as saying.

The rebels have been fighting for Kurdish autonomy, mainly in southeastern Turkey, for 15 years.

Turks - especially those whose friends and family were among the 37,000 killed in warfare - reveled in Ocalan's conviction, which will be automatically appealed. If upheld,the verdivct must be endorsed by parliament and President Suleyman Demirel. Turkey's last execution was in 1984.

European Union members, which all have abolished the death penalty, warned that hanging Ocalan would hurt Turkey's bid to become an EU member.

Relations were already strained after the EU told the Turkish government in 1997 that it must improve its human rights record and resolve disputes with EU-member Greece before joining.

Premier Bulent Ecevit brushed aside European criticism, saying: Â"We are not in the position to take any political decision to please the European Union.Â"

Â"Those who try to influence the legal proceedings in Turkey will meet with opposition from Turkish public opinion,Â" he said Thursday.

Meanwhile, Turkey was reportedly pressuring Iran to crack down on Kurdish rebels on its territory, daily Radikal reported Friday.

The rebels carry out hit-and-run attacks from their bases in northern Iraq and Iran.

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