Political tensions rise as Turkey mourns at least 95 killed in blasts


The worst attack in Turkey’s modern history, a twin bombing of a pro-Kurdish peace rally that killed at least 95 people, exacerbated political tensions Sunday, three weeks before parliamentary elections.

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan condemned Saturday’s “heinous attack” in Ankara, but some of the people who rallied in several cities to protest the bombings chanted slogans calling him a “murderer.”

The pro-Kurdish opposition People’s Democratic Party (HDP), which was one of the organizers of Saturday’s rally, saw itself as the target of the attack and held the government accountable.

Its co-chairman Selahattin Demirtas said it was “an attack by the state on the people.”

“You are murderers,” he said. “There is blood on your hands.”

The HDP and its supporters have been the target of attacks. A party official who requested anonymity charged that the government “either organized it [Saturday’s attack] or didn’t prevent it.”

Thousands of people gathered Sunday in Ankara to mourn those killed the previous day in the Turkish capital.

Government figures put the death toll at 95 and the number of injured at 246. Many of the wounded sustained serious injuries. Kurdish officials said the death toll is higher and likely to rise.

The HDP official who spoke on the condition of anonymity put the toll at 122 people and said more than 500 were injured.

Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said two suicide bombers likely carried out the strike. Who was behind it was unknown, and no group claimed responsibility for the bombings, which came before an election on November 1 and the G20 leaders’ summit later next month.

Tensions rose further when Davutoglu said a number of groups are suspects, including the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), leftists and the Islamic State militant group.

His accusation that Kurdish militants might have bombed the pro-Kurdish peace rally angered officials in the HDP.

A two-year ceasefire between the PKK and the state was shattered in July after a similar suicide bombing in Suruc in southern Turkey killed 34 at a pro-Kurdish gathering.

That attack was also not claimed, but Turkey blamed Islamic State.

Erdogan said investigations are under way into the latest attack. He pledged the perpetrators would be brought to justice. Three days of mourning were declared.

After the blasts, the PKK, which is fighting for greater autonomy for Turkey’s Kurdish minority, called on its militants to halt all armed action against the state unless they are attacked.

There were reports the group had planned such a call before the elections but the government had snubbed the proposal.

On Sunday, the government carried out further airstrikes on PKK positions in northern Iraq. The military also said 14 PKK fighters were killed in airstrikes Saturday in the south-eastern Turkish province of Diyarbakir.

The state-run Anadolu news agency reported two soldiers were killed in an operation against the PKK in the eastern province of Erzurum.

As the mourners gathered Sunday at Ankara’s Sihhiye Square, the HDP said police dispersed a delegation of lawmakers and union members who had come to the nearby attack site to lay flowers.

The HDP’s performance in June parliamentary elections denied Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party an absolute majority. After a government failed to be formed, snap elections were called.