ANKARA, (Reuters) – Thousands of people, many chanting anti-government slogans, gathered in central Ankara on Sunday near the scene of bomb blasts which killed at least 128 people, mourning the victims of the most deadly attack of its kind on Turkish soil.
Two suspected suicide bombers hit a rally of pro-Kurdish and labor activists near Ankara’s main train station on Saturday, three weeks before an election, shocking a nation beset by conflict between the state and Kurdish militants.
The pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), a major presence at Saturday’s march, said police attacked its leaders and members as they tried to leave carnations earlier at the scene. Some were hurt in the melee, it said in a statement.
“Murderer (President Tayyip) Erdogan,” “murderer police,” the crowd chanted in Sihhiye square, as riot police backed by water cannon vehicles blocked a main highway leading to the district where parliament and government buildings are located.
Some have suggested militant nationalists opposed to any accommodation with Kurds seeking greater minority rights could have been responsible.
Turkish investigators worked on Sunday to identify the perpetrators and victims of the attack. Newspaper headlines reflected the mixture of grief and anger.
“We are in mourning for peace,” said the front-page headline in the secularist Cumhuriyet newspaper as three days of national mourning declared by the prime minister got underway. “Scum Launch attack in Ankara,” said the Haberturk newspaper. “The goal is to divide the nation,” said the pro-government Star.
DEATH TOLL COULD RISE
One of the bombers had been identified as a male aged between 25-30 after analyzing bodies at the scene and taking fingerprints, the pro-government Yeni Safak said.
There were no claims of responsibility for the attack, which came as external threats mount for NATO member Turkey, with increased fighting across its border with Syria and incursions by Russian warplanes on its air space over the last week.
Davutoglu’s office named 52 of the victims overnight and said autopsies were continuing. It said 246 wounded people were still being treated, 48 of them in intensive care.
“The necessary work is being conducted to identify those behind the attack and quickly bring them to justice,” a statement said.
Relatives and friends of the casualties waited anxiously on Sunday morning outside the hospitals where the wounded were being treated.
The two blasts happened seconds apart on Saturday morning as crowds, including pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) activists, leftists, labor unions and other civic groups, gathered for a march to protest over the deaths of hundreds since conflict resumed between security forces and the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) in the mainly Kurdish southeast.
HDP leader Selahattin Demirtas blamed the government in blunt terms. He said on Saturday the attack was part of the same campaign as the bombing of an HDP rally in the southeastern city of Diyarbakir on the eve of June elections and a suicide bombing blamed on Islamic State in Suruc near the Syrian border in July, which killed 33 mostly young pro-Kurdish activists.
Hours after the bombing, the PKK, as widely expected beforehand, ordered its fighters to halt operations in Turkey unless they faced attack. It said it would avoid acts that could hinder a “fair and just election” on Nov. 1.