Turkey Stymied by Sympathy for Kurds

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Old-fashioned racism may have boosted European solidarity with the Kurds in recent years -- and that's bad news for Turkey. On Thursday, Italy maintained its reluctance to extradite Kurdish rebel leader Abdullah Ocalan to Turkey, where he's wanted on charges of terrorism. "Some European countries fear being swamped by Turkish workers if Turkey becomes an EU member, and they've been using Turkey's treatment of the Kurds as an issue to block its membership," says TIME correspondent William Dowell. "In the process, they've boosted European support for the Kurds."

Sympathy for Ocalan's cause, along with Italy's traditional aversion to extraditing suspects who face the death penalty, make Rome likely to maintain its defiance in the face of Turkish protests. "Italy wants Turkey to enter a dialogue with the Kurdish separatists, although the chances of that are almost nil," says TIME Rome reporter Martin Penner. To that end, Rome has launched an unlikely diplomatic initiative -- Prime Minister Massimo D'Alema offered to hold talks with Turkey's leaders at a European Cup soccer match next week between teams from the two countries. The fact that the Italian team is favored to win may not be the only reason Turkey declines.