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World - Europe

Kurds seize embassies, wage violent protests across Europe

Strip
A teen-ager sets herself ablaze before being rescued by police in London
InteractiveINTERACTIVE:
Protests around the world:
see the scenes

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CNN's Richard Blystone reports on the day's violent protests across Europe
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Protesters fighting leader Ocalan's arrest

February 17, 1999
Web posted at: 2:58 a.m. EST (0758 GMT)

LONDON (CNN) -- Kurdish protesters erupted in coordinated wave of fiery demonstrations at Greek and Kenyan missions across Europe on Tuesday, in some cases taking diplomats hostage or setting themselves ablaze.

The mass protests were triggered by the arrest of Kurdish rebel leader Abdullah Ocalan, who is wanted by Turkey on terrorism charges.

Ocalan was taken to Turkey from Kenya where he was reportedly hiding in the Greek Embassy in the capital, Nairobi. However, details of his arrest remain unclear.

Ocalan heads the separatist Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), which has fought a 15-year war for autonomy from Turkey.

Angry Kurdish protesters set fires and stormed embassies and consulates in more than 21 cities worldwide on Tuesday, including European cities from London to Moscow.

Kurds took hostages at Greek missions in the Netherlands, Austria, Germany and Italy, as well as at the Kenyan Embassy in Paris.

The demonstrators burst into the Greek and Kenyan embassies early Tuesday in Vienna and took five hostages at the Greek mission, including the ambassador.

Kurds at the Kenyan Embassy threatened to set it on fire if their demands for talks weren't met.

Austrian state TV reported the activists who had been occupying both of the embassies in Vienna left on Wednesday morning.

The activists left voluntarily after lengthy negotiations with authorities. Since no weapons were found at either location, the occupiers were not arrested but will face charges.

'It is purely a political affair'

At The Hague, about 150 Kurds entered the Greek ambassador's residence and took three hostages, including the ambassador's wife and 8-year-old son. The Kurds occupied the residence for several hours before releasing the hostages unharmed and surrendering to police.

In London, a woman set herself on fire as about 100 Kurdish demonstrators occupying the Greek Embassy said they were prepared to burn themselves to death.

The protesters demanded Ocalan's release and blamed Western governments for the plight of Turkey's Kurdish minority. About 3,000 Kurdish demonstrators blocked traffic outside the embassy.

The protesters sat down on Holland Park Avenue, a major thoroughfare, late Tuesday afternoon, waving Kurdish flags and chanting. Adding to the traffic troubles: London's underground subway was shut down.

British riot police in padded uniforms cordoned off the area, but were staying clear of the relatively peaceful crowd.

Protester
A protester in Germany lies prone after being burned during a protest  

In Russia, police arrested 49 protesters who occupied the Greek Embassy for 2 1/2 hours Tuesday. Russian First Deputy Prime Minister Vadim Gustov condemned the takeover, but police officials said the detainees were likely to be freed without facing charges.

"It is purely a political affair," a police spokesman said.

Protests also erupted throughout Switzerland. In Geneva, 30 to 40 protesters occupied the main U.N. building, and in Zurich and Bern, demonstrators occupied Greek diplomatic buildings. In Zurich, the demonstrators took the building's owner hostage, as well as a policeman who tried to negotiate with them.

In France, several people were injured when police in Strasbourg forced about 30 demonstrators out of the Greek consulate. Another 20 Kurds were arrested in Paris trying to enter the Greek Embassy. Police also forced several dozen demonstrators out of the Greek consulate in Marseille, where they had threatened to set themselves on fire.

Two women were seriously burned when they set themselves on fire during protests in Berlin and Copenhagen, Denmark.

Italian protestor
A Kurdish protester in Italy parades with a placard of an unidentified man  

Other protests:

  • Brussels, Belgium: Some 50 Kurdish protesters occupied the Greek Embassy, doused themselves with gasoline and threatened to set fire to themselves if they were removed. They later left voluntarily.

  • Frankfurt, Germany: Demonstrators overturned cars in a protest which turned violent, prompting police to deploy water cannons and batons. Around 50 protesters occupied the consulate in early Wednesday.

  • Dusseldorf, Germany: 300 protesters occupied the Greek consulate. About 30 were arrested.

  • Stuttgart, Germany: Police stormed the Greek Embassy, arresting 27 protesters. Nobody was hurt. Outside the city, a 17-year-old Kurdish woman was taken to the hospital with serious burns after dousing herself in petrol and setting herself ablaze.

  • Milan, Italy: About 20 Kurds forced their way into the Greek consulate and held the consul hostage for four hours before leaving the building.

  • Vancouver, British Columbia: About 30 protesters occupied the Greek consulate and spread flammable liquid, threatening to set themselves on fire. They left peacefully after about three hours.

  • Sydney, Australia: About 50 Kurdish protesters who stormed the Greek consulate in Sydney ended their occupation peacefully after a nine-hour standoff.

CNN Correspondents Peter Humi, Richard Blystone and Nic Robertson and Reuters contributed to this report.



RELATED STORIES:
Kurdish rebel leader seized, flown to Turkey
February 16, 1999
Turks jubilant over Ocalan's capture
February 16, 1999
Profile: Ocalan inspires loyalty, hate
February 16, 1999
Kurd stages "human torch" protest in Athens
February 15, 1999
Fugitive Ocalan slams Europe for ignoring Kurdish problem
February 7, 1999

RELATED SITES:
Kurdistan Workers Party Information
The Republic of Turkey
President of the Turkish Republic
The Center for Kurdish Political Studies
Terrorist acts by the PKK
Turkish Press Review: Daily News
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