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Posted by D from ( on Wednesday, May 28, 2003 at 10:54PM :

An Italian Member of the European Parliament (MEP) on Friday condemned a Turkish court's decision not to free four Kurdish former parliamentarians pending their retrial on charges of helping Kurdish rebel groups.

Luigi Vinci, who is attending the trial as an observer, also warned that failure to free the four Kurds, imprisoned since 1994, could damage Turkey's relations with the European Union as it pushes for membership of the bloc.

"This trial has a highly political and symbolic value," Vinci told AFP. "It would be a mistake for Ankara to underestimate its importance."

Turkish parliamentarians and Kurdish rights activists Leyla Zana, Hatip Dicle, Orhan Dogan and Selim Sadak were originally jailed for 15 years for carrying out "separatist activities" on behalf of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK).

The Pkk waged a violent campaign for Kurdish self-rule in southeastern up until its 1999 truce with Ankara.

After the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg ruled that they had not received a fair trial, a Turkish court last February agreed to a retrial but refused to free the four on bail.

"The fact that they have still not been freed already has repercussions for Euro-Turkish relations," Vinci warned.

Their retrial is the first under a government policy adopted in January of allowing second trials for all convictions deemed flawed or unfair by the Strasbourg court.

The new hearings began at the end of March under tight security and have been attended by large numbers of lawyers, foreign diplomats, journalists, human rights activists and MEPs.

European leaders are due to decide by the end of next year whether to press ahead with formal negotiations on Turkey's membership of the EU, pencilled in for 2007.


-- D
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