FEATURE-Ocalan grabs Turks' attention after decade in jail
* Jailed guerrilla leader retains influence among Kurds
* "Road map" to be noted, no place at negotiating table
* Nationalist anger persists
By Daren Butler
ISTANBUL, July 24 (Reuters) - Pacing his prison island cell, guerrilla leader Abdullah Ocalan has had a decade to ponder his "road map" to solve Turkey's Kurdish problem and end a conflict which his militants launched a quarter of a century ago.
But the plan which has thrust him back into the spotlight, set to be unveiled in August, reflects transformation in Turkey more than a change of heart in Ocalan, who led the Kurdistan Workers Party's (PKK) violent insurgency until his 1999 capture.
Ever since he was sentenced to death for treason that year, blamed for a conflict which has killed 40,000, the stocky, moustachioed 61-year-old has said the PKK is ready to disarm if Turkey is prepared for talks. The killing has continued.
"He is seeing if he can play a role as a facilitator. He is not demanding to be accepted as a partner in talks," said Ocalan's lawyer Irfan Dundar, a regular visitor to the jail where he is the sole inmate on Imrali island in the Marmara Sea.
"Despite the difficult conditions in which he is kept, he is trying to maintain his spoken performance. For 10 years he has spoken to nobody but his lawyers and family," he told Reuters.
In a plain cell housing a bed, shower, toilet and desk, Ocalan spends his time reading books on history and philosophy, by thinkers such as Hegel and Derrida. In his one-hour weekly visits from his lawyers, he talks of topical issues, such as the recent Iranian elections.
Beyond his prison walls, the bloodshed has continued, with the PKK launching attacks on military personnel and bombings in Turkish cities.
Turkish warplane raids on its bases in the last two years have reduced the capacity for attacks by the PKK, regarded as a terrorist group by Turkey, the United States and European Union.
Cultural reforms, such as Kurdish-language broadcasting, have meanwhile addressed some of the complaints of discrimination among Turkey's 12 million Kurds, a sixth of the population.
INFLUENTIAL AMONG KURDS
Many Kurds seek more reforms and steps towards autonomy in the mainly Kurdish southeast of the country. They acknowledge progress by a state which for years had not recognised them as an ethnic group.
Another sign of the change in Turkey's past uncompromising stance is widespread media commentary about the proposals by Ocalan, whose utterances have been largely ignored for a decade.
He remains an influential figure within the PKK, the legal Kurdish Democratic Society Party and a significant proportion of the Kurdish community. Political commentator Cengiz Candar said it would now make no sense to disregard his "road map" if it could play a role in ending the violence.
"Whether you like it or not, whether you fume or seethe, Abdullah Ocalan has an influence and sway over a considerable segment of Turkey's Kurds and the Kurdish diaspora," he said.
President Abdullah Gul has seen a "historic opportunity" for peace and this week Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan announced a bid to solve the Kurdish problem, building on reforms seen as necessary for Turkey's stalled EU membership bid. [ID:nLM62533]
"His (Ocalan's) opinions would be taken into account by all sides, I think. But it does not mean that he is going to be sitting around a table to negotiate with the state," Akif Beki, a former spokesman for the prime minister's office, told Reuters.
Sabah newspaper on Friday detailed a 10-point plan on which it said Ocalan was working, including a ceasefire, a general amnesty for the PKK, Kurdish-language education and moves towards autonomy for Kurdish regions - all oft-quoted measures.
Dundar, who met the PKK leader last week, rejected the report and said Ocalan had not yet detailed his plan.
Ocalan is expected to unveil his proposals on August 15 -- the 25th anniversary of the PKK's first armed attack.
In June 1999, Turks rejoiced when a black-robed judge told Ocalan he must hang for mass murder and treason. Spectators sang the Turkish national anthem as guards led Ocalan from his bullet-proof glass box to the cell where he has remained since.
His sentence was commuted to life imprisonment in 2002 when the death penalty was abolished, but there is widespread hatred for a man often described as a "baby killer" and "butcher".
The strength of feeling was evident this week in opposition Nationalist Movement Party leader Devlet Bahceli's attack on Erdogan for steps which he said encouraged ethnic separatism.
"The prime minister has become a very serious risk for Turkey ... as he prepares to outsource recipes to divide Turkey under the guidance of the butcher of Imrali," Bahceli said.
While most Turks revile Ocalan, the former political science student from the southeast still commands strong support among Kurds. At demonstrations, pro-PKK protesters chant "Leader Apo", his nickname, and hold aloft his smiling portrait.
Those pictures contrast with the first images of him after his capture in Kenya after fleeing Syria. Between masked Turkish special forces, he sat dazed and dishevelled in an aircraft seat, handcuffed and bound -- an image which astounded Turkey.
He is set to be joined soon on Imrali by nine other inmates to meet EU demands he no longer be kept in solitary confinement.
It appears extremely unlikely that Ocalan, now apparently suffering from a prostate problem and ringing in his ears, will ever be released from jail as his supporters demand. (Writing by Daren Butler; Editing by Mark Trevelyan)
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