Just when it seemed the war effort in Syria may be peaking, with Obama on the verge of folding long-standing US efforts to remove Syria's president Assad, overnight a new tragedy struck this time in the country which too has been using ISIS as a scapegoat while it conducts its own private war against Kurd elements in the south of the country.
Earlier today, around 10am local time, Turkey’s capital Ankara, was rocked by two blasts which according to AFP have killed at least 86 demonstrators, who had gathered for a peace march, as the country grapples with mounting security threats just three weeks before snap elections. The explosions also wounded more than 186 people, the Turkish Interior Ministry said. The cause of the blasts was unclear, the ministry said, adding that it had launched an investigation.
Graphic pictures from the scene showed several bodies covered by flags and placards, with bloodstains visible and body parts scattered in the road. One hundred and twenty-six people were hurt, the country's interior ministry said.
"There was a demonstration," one eyewitness told local television cited by NBC. "I was walking next to a stage rally truck. Right here, behind two banners, an explosion went off. We lay on the ground. The second bomb went off there. There were two bombs but the one that went off here was a very strong one."
The clips below capture both the moment of the explosion and the ensuing panic:
“I condemn whoever did this. We came here to express our wish for peace. But we faced another massacre,” said Lami Ozgen, chairman of Confederation of Public Employees’ Unions, or KESK—one of the leading organizers of the march.
The long-ruling Justice and Development Party, or AKP, which leads the interim government, reiterated this sentiment, when its spokesman Omer Celik said that "we condemn this terrorist attack. This is a highly provocative action aimed at sabotaging the election process." Sadly, considering the credibility of the AKP and its dramatic efforts to usurp power in the process converting Turkey into quasi-despotism, one has to take anything coming out of Recep Erdogan's party with many grains of salt (case in point, the editor-in-chief of a major Turkey newspaper is being taken jail for insulting Erdogan).
According to the WSJ, witnesses at the blast site alleged that at least one of the explosions was carried out by a suicide bomber, Mr. Celik said, adding that officials investigating the attacks were unable to confirm the reports.
The atmosphere around the blast site was tense, with some demonstrators throwing rocks at armored riot-police vehicles arriving outside the station and forcing one police car to flee the area.
The march’s organizers urged calm and directed people to hospitals to give blood to the wounded, even as Health Ministry officials took to the airwaves to say donations weren’t needed. Hundreds of riot police were deployed in front of the station shortly after the attack to help secure the perimeters, prompting skirmishes with demonstrators.
“Turkey doesn’t deserve this, everyone in this country should condemn terrorism,” said Kemal Kilicdaroglu, leader of the main opposition Republican People’s Party, or CHP.
Turkish television channels broadcast scenes of panic as ambulances rushed to the area to take the wounded to nearby hospitals. Demonstrators formed a human chain around the attacked area and laid out scores of lifeless bodies in front of the station, covering them with flags of unions, political parties and civilian organizations participating in the “Labor, Peace and Democracy” march.
Further from the WSJ, the blast comes amid a backdrop of violence that has gripped Turkey since the breakdown in July of a two-year cease-fire between Kurdish insurgents and the state. Hundreds of security officials and civilians have been killed amid resurgent clashes between the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, and state forces, while the government has claimed to have killed more than 1,000 Kurdish militants.
While the final death toll is still being tabulated with three difference version of the total saying anywhere between 30 and 69 people have died...
... Saturday’s blasts are shaping up as the deadliest to hit Ankara in recent years. The capital was hit by PKK-linked suicide and car bombings in 2007 and 2011 that killed a total 13 people. Leftist militants struck the entrance of the U.S. Embassy in 2013, killing two including the suicide bomber.
The explosion comes at an opportunistic time: on Sunday Kurdish militants were expected to call a cease-fire to bolster security in Turkey’s southeast in the lead up to the Nov. 1 elections, according to interviews with senior PKK commanders in the Kurdish media. The PKK, which is listed as a terrorist organization by Turkey, the U.S. and the European Union, has been fighting for Kurdish autonomy since 1984 in a conflict in which more than 40,000 people have been killed. Some may therefore view today's explosion as a provocation serving to underming any peaceful election, instead handing over the government full control over how to stage, and conduct, what will be merely the latest sham "vote" in Turkey.
Turkey’s pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party, or HDP, was also among the groups participating in the demonstration. Since the flare-up of violence after the June national elections, when the HDP doubled its support to 13% to enter parliament for the first time, party leader Selahattin Demirtas has called on both the PKK and the state to resume peace talks.
“The purpose of this march was to call for peace and call for the end of the current conflict,” an HDP spokesman said Saturday.
Worse, according to local reports, a political candidate for Istanbul of the HDP party was killed in the attack, giving the suicide bombing the appearance of a targeted assassination:
Turkey's president Recep Tayyip Erdogan issued a statement condemning the attacks, but not before trying to score even more political propaganda points.
“I strongly condemn this horrendous attack, which targets our unity and brotherhood. The aim of this attack is to make enemies of different groups in the society,” he said. He added that the “greatest supporters of terrorism are those who apply double standards in face of terrorism,” taking a swipe at the HDP without naming the pro-Kurdish party, which the president has repeatedly accused of being in cahoots with the PKK.
While as noted above the reason for at least one of the bomb attacks according to eyewitnesses was a suicide bomber, there has been no official version yet.
For now, however, the government's reaction has been one many are accustomed to: in the aftermath of the explosion, the government promptly did what it always does in crisis situations - a crack down on mass communication and free speech, in this case manifesting by a promptly blocking Twitter.