Political opponents and thousands of angry protesters expressed anger on Sunday at President Recep Tayyip Erdogan after Turkey’s worst-ever terrorist attacks and as the country hurtled toward a bitterly divisive election.
The streets of the capital Ankara filled with anti-government and pro-Kurdish protesters accusing the president of responsibility for the blasts that ripped through a peace rally there on Sunday, with several shouting «Erdogan murderer!» and «Government resign!»
Around 10,000 people marched in Istanbul, blaming the government for failing to protect citizens at the ill-fated event a day earlier, carrying placards reading «The state is a killer» and «We know the murderers».
The opposition Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) says 128 people were killed when the bombs exploded on Saturday morning as leftist and pro-Kurdish activists assembled by Ankara’s main train station.
That figure was higher than the 97 people the prime minister’s office said died when the twin bombs struck.
The official toll also said 507 people were wounded, with 160 still in hospital and 65 in intensive care.
As tributes poured in from world leaders, HDP leader Selahattin Demirtas was cited as saying «State attacked the people. Condolences recipient should be the people not Erdogan» on the party’s Twitter account.
In an emotional address to mourners in Ankara, Demirtas said that citizens should aim to end Erdogan’s rule, starting with the November 1 legislative elections.
Blame IS group?
The government, which has denied any responsibility in the incident, is attempting to identify the two male suicide bombers it blamed for the bloodshed.
Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said groups including Islamic State (IS) group jihadists, the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and the far-left groups 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», his office said Sunday.
Reporting from Ankara, FRANCE 24’s correspondent Jasper Mortimer said: “Only the Islamic State group has been bombing in public places recently.”
Mortimer also noted that the attack came just under three months after a suicide bombing blamed on the IS group in the town of Suruc, on the Syrian border, killed 33 people. It also targeted peace activists.
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.
However, the IS group has openly claimed past attacks, sometimes opportunistically taking responsibility for actions it did not direct. There has been no such claim for the Ankara bombing, and sceptics see the group as a convenient scapegoat.
The bombings have raised tensions just three weeks before snap elections and as the military wages an offensive against IS group militants, but also Kurdish separatists.
With the country on edge, 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.
Even before the deadly blasts, the president was under immense political pressure after his Justice and Development Party (AKP) 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.
To the disappointment of Erdogan’s AKP, opinion polls show the outcome may be little different to the previous ballot. Observers noted the impact of the deadly attack on an electorate where divisions are deeply entrenched was likely to be minimal.
The PKK on Saturday unexpectedly announced it would suspend all attacks – except in self defence – ahead of the polls.
But the Turkish army kept up its campaign with more air raids on southeast Turkey and northern Iraq, killing 49 suspected PKK militants over the last two days, the official Anatolia news agency reported.