Saturday, October 10, 2015

Ankara explosions leave more than 80 dead - officials

8 minutes ago
From the section Europe

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Media captionFootage shows the moment one of the blasts occurred

Two explosions at a peace rally in the Turkish capital Ankara have killed at least 86 people and injured 186, according to officials.

TV footage showed scenes of panic and people lying on the ground covered in blood, amid protest banners.

The blasts took place near the city's central train station as people gathered for a march organised by leftist groups.

The attack is the deadliest ever of its kind on Turkish soil.

In pictures: Aftermath of attacks

Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu has announced three days of national mourning, and said there was evidence that two suicide bombers had carried out the attacks.

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Media captionFootage shows the aftermath of an attack on the Turkish capital, Ankara - Sahdi Al-Kashif reports

Banners for the planned peace rally were used to cover victims' bodies

Protesters gathered in Turkey's largest city, Istanbul, to condemn the attacks

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said the attack, which comes weeks before an election, was an act of terrorism and was "loathsome".

The rally was demanding an end to the violence between the Kurdish separatist PKK militants and the Turkish government, and had been due to start at 12:00 local time.

The pro-Kurdish HDP party was among those attending, and it said in a statement that it believes its members were the main target of the bombings.

The leader of the HDP has blamed the state for the attack, which he called "a huge massacre", and cancelled all election rallies.

The party has previously blamed the government for colluding in attacks on Kurdish activists, which the government denies.
Analysis: Mark Lowen, BBC News, Istanbul

After the ceasefire between the PKK and the Turkish state broke down in July, Turkey has spiralled into tit-for-tat attacks between the two sides, and tension between Kurds and Turkish nationalists has soared.

Amidst the frenzy of a repeat election in November, it was expected that something dangerous was imminent.

The pro-Kurdish HDP party has blamed the state. That is undoubtedly a reference to the so-called "deep state" often talked about here: a shady mix of nationalist forces either colluding with or supporting the government in power.

The West's vital ally in the Middle East is now facing a perfect storm: deep political polarisation, the bubble of economic success on the brink of bursting, a resumption of violence with the PKK, the threat from Islamic State, and two million Syrian refugees and counting.

The tragedy in Ankara is a sign of the dark times Turkey is now facing.

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The two explosions happened shortly after 10:00 as crowds gathered ahead of the rally. Amateur video footage showed a group of young people holding hands and singing, before the first blast.

Opposition MP Musa Cam tweeted a photo of a ball bearing he says he found at the scene.

"I heard one big explosion first and tried to cover myself as the windows broke. Right away there was the second one," an eyewitness at the train station told Reuters.

"There was shouting and crying and I stayed under the newspapers for a while. I could smell burnt flesh," he added.

"There was a great movement and panic," eyewitness Ahmet Onen told AFP.

The blasts hit crowds near a stadium in central Ankara

"A demonstration that was to promote peace has turned into a massacre, I don't understand this," he said, sobbing.

Bulent Tekdemir, who was at the rally, told the BBC that the police used tear gas "as soon as the bomb went off", and "would not let ambulances through".

A local resident said that angry people tried to attack police cars after the blast. The HDP tweeted that police "attacked" people carrying the injured away.

Turkey is holding a re-run of June's inconclusive parliamentary elections on 1 November.

An HDP rally in the city of Diyarbakir was bombed in June, ahead of general elections in which the party entered parliament for the first time.

In July, a suicide bombing by suspected Islamic State militants on a gathering of socialist youth activists in the town of Suruc on the Syrian border killed at least 30 people.

A ceasefire between the Kurdish militant group the PKK and Turkey's government later broke down, with the PKK accusing the security forces of collaborating with IS.

This led to an increase in attacks from both sides over the summer.

On Saturday the PKK called on its fighters to halt its guerrilla activities in Turkey unless attacked first. A statement from an umbrella group that includes the PKK said its forces would "make no attempts to hinder or harm the exercise of a fair and equal election".

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