Peace rally bombing stokes tensions in Turkey

Questions grow over who ordered the deadliest attack on the country as demonstrators continue to call for peace.

The bomb blasts in Ankara which killed at least 97 people at a peace rally on Saturday have raised tensions in Turkey, three weeks before snap elections are due on November 1.

In the predominantly Kurdish southeastern city of Diyarbakir on Sunday, demonstrators condemned the attack and called for peace. The same calls echoed in the capital.

Saturday’s attack came in less than three months since a suicide bombing blamed on ISIL, also against peace activists, in the town of Suruc on the Syrian border which killed 33 people.

While the government blames Kurdish fighters or ISIL fighters for the attacks, there is growing anger at President Recep Tayyip Erdogan for intensifying a crackdown on Kurdish groups.

Erdogan issued a statement condemning the “heinous” bombings and cancelled a planned visit to Turkmenistan, but he has yet to speak in public since the attack that shocked the nation.

Flags flew at half-mast across the country on the first of three days of national mourning declared by Ahmet Davutoglu, Turkey’s prime minister, as questions grew over who could have ordered the bombings.

The Turkish government has struggled to identify the two male suicide bombers it blames for the bloodshed.

Turkey’s pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), one of the groups that had organised the rally, said it believes the death toll now stands at 128.

At Sunday’s rally in Ankara, thousands of demonstrators thronged the central Sihhiye Square, close to the blast site by the city’s main train station, to pay tribute to the victims.

Many of those gathered accused the government of failing to provide security at the rally and several anti-government demonstrators shouted “Erdogan murderer” and “government resign!”

Erdogan has been under immense political pressure after his Justice and Development Party (AK Party) lost its overall majority in June 7 polls for the first time since it came to power in 2002.

Coalition talks failed and Erdogan called new elections for November 1.

Saturday’s explosions

Davutoglu’s office said 97 people were killed when the bombs exploded just after 10am local time (07:00 GMT) on Saturday as leftist and pro-Kurdish activists assembled for the rally.

It said that 507 people were wounded, with 160 still in hospital and 65 in intensive care in 19 hospitals.

An AFP correspondent said the scene of the blast was littered with ball bearings, indicating the explosions were intended to cause maximum damage.

Many Kurds have accused the government of failing to provide security at Saturday's ill-fated rally in Ankara [Cagdas Erdogan/AP]
Many Kurds have accused the government of failing to provide security at Saturday’s ill-fated rally in Ankara [Cagdas Erdogan/AP]

In an emotional address to the mourners in Ankara, Selahattin Demirtas, HDP’s leader, said that rather than seeking revenge, people should aim to end Erdogan’s rule, starting with the upcoming legislative elections.

“We are not going to act out of revenge and hatred. But we are going to ask for [people to be held to] account,” he said, adding that the elections would be part of a process to “topple the dictator”.

The Ankara death toll surpasses that of the May 2013 twin bombings in Reyhanli on the Syrian border that killed over 50 people, making the attack the deadliest in the history of the Turkish Republic.

There has been no claim of responsibility yet for the twin bombings, but Davutoglu said groups including ISIL, the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and the far-left Revolutionary People’s Liberation Party-Front (DHKP-C) were capable of carrying out such an attack.

“Work is continuing to identify the corpses of the two male terrorists who carried out the suicide bombings,” Davutoglu’s office said in a statement late on Sunday.

NTV television said the Suruc and Ankara attacks were similar both in style and the type of bombs used. The same forensic experts sent to Suruc are now working in Ankara.

The Hurriyet and Haberturk dailies reported that the elder brother of Abdurrahman Alagoz, who carried out the Suruc suicide bombing, could be implicated in the Ankara blasts.

After the Suruc attack, the PKK accused the government of collaborating with ISIL and resumed attacks on security forces after a truce that had lasted more than two years.

The military hit back, launching a “war on terror” against the Kurdish fighters.

The PKK on Saturday unexpectedly announced it would suspend all attacks – except in self-defence – before the polls.

But the Turkish army kept up its campaign with more air raids on southeast Turkey and northern Iraq, killing 49 suspected fighters over the last two days, the official Anatolia news agency reported.

Two Turkish soldiers were also killed in clashes with the PKK in the eastern Erzurum region, reports said.

Saturday's attack in Ankara came in less than three months since a deadly suicide bombing blamed on ISIL in Suruc [Daylife]
Saturday’s attack in Ankara came in less than three months since a deadly suicide bombing blamed on ISIL in Suruc [Daylife]
Source: Al Jazeera, News Agencies