A Kurdish rebel leader was freed in Rome today amid a barrage of protests from Turkey, which wants him handed over as a terrorist.
Abdullah Ocalan left the hospital where he had been in custody since his Nov. 12 arrival in Italy, reportedly for a private residence. He told the thousands of Kurds from throughout Europe who came to Rome in his support to return home. "Go back to your towns and your jobs and continue supporting the Kurdish cause," he said in a statement.
The most visible group, several hundred supporters who had camped out for the past week in a Rome piazza, peacefully packed up and left.
Ocalan was freed by a court decision Friday rejecting a Turkish warrant for his arrest because Italian law forbids extradition to countries with the death penalty. The court said Ocalan had to stay in Rome, but that order could be lifted next month.
Turkey, which is trying him in absentia on capital crimes, expressed outrage and again warned Italy against granting Ocalan political asylum.
Italy "cannot carry this shame. If it does, Turkey will not leave this unanswered," Prime Minister Mesut Yilmaz said in Ankara. "Italy's biggest error would be to open its arms to the bloodiest terrorist in the world."
Ocalan leads the Kurdish Workers' Party (PKK), which has fought a 14-year war for Kurdish autonomy in southeastern Turkey that has claimed 37,000 lives.
The Turkish newspaper Hurriyet said today that Libya might offer him refuge if he has to leave Italy.
Turkey is applying economic as well as diplomatic pressure on Italy, its second-largest trading partner. Turkish businesses are boycotting Italian products. The United States is also pressing Rome to extradite Ocalan.
Anti-Italian sentiment is running high in Turkey, and the Italian Foreign Ministry advised Italians to put off trips to Turkey as a precaution.
Italy received support, meanwhile, from the European Union, which expressed "full solidarity with Italy in her determination to fully implement her laws," and from Human Rights Watch in Washington. But both condemned PKK violence. Human Rights Watch said Ocalan should be "held accountable for atrocities committed under his leadership."
Germany, home to 500,000 Kurds, today renewed a 1990 warrant for Ocalan but said it wasn't necessarily changing its earlier statement that it wouldn't seek his extradition. The new warrant accuses Ocalan of killing PKK dissidents and staging a series of arson attacks in Germany.
Outraged Turks in Ankara laid black wreaths in front of the Italian Embassy and honked their car horns; graffiti denouncing the PKK defaced walls. "No to terrorism, today and forever," read a banner hung across the boulevard in front of the embassy.