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The death toll from the October 10 twins blasts at a peace rally has now reached above 100, say opposition politicians, as thousands of demonstrators in Turkish cities and around the world took to the streets to vent their fury at the Turkish government and its failure to stem the violence that's wracking the country.
Some 10,000 demonstrators in Istanbul chanted anti-government slogans denouncing President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, saying: "We will not give up without destroying the head of the palace", "The state is the killer", and "We know the murderers". Demonstrators also gathered in Ankara, where they clashed with police forces after officers reportedly blocked a road in order to allow ambulances to pass; in Izmir on the shores of the Aegean Sea; and in smaller towns including Batman and Diyarbakir in Anatolia, where police reportedly used tear gas to disperse the rally.
The Turkish diaspora also rallied in some of the largest cities in Europe including Paris, where an estimated 1,000 mostly Kurdish protesters heeded calls from the Kurdish Democratic Council in France and gathered in Place de la Republique to manifest their disgust with the "cowardly attack". Another 400 protesters gathered in Strasbourg, according to AFP, and several hundred in the southern port of Marseille. In Zurich, police reported that 1,000 peaceful protesters took to the streets, some holding up signs that read "Stop state terror in Turkey".
As Turkey began to bury the victims of the twin bomb attacks in Ankara, the government released the names of 98 victims, which include two deputies from the Kurdish Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP) and 10 from the opposition Republican People's Party (CHP). According to the HDP, the number of people killed in the bombing stands at 128, all but eight of whom have been identified and their names published by the HDP’s crisis desk.
Twitter account @dilkocer is going through the list and publishing separate tweets for each victim, including their photograph and some background information. An already inflamed social media has reacted strongly to news that nine-year-old Veysel Deniz Atilgan lost his life in the attacks, with ironic comments condemning the heroes that would murder a child.
No group has claimed responsibility for the attacks yet, but the mostly anti-establishment protesters seemed to agree with Turkish MP Lutfu Turkkan, who tweeted after the bombing that the attack “was either a failure by the intelligence service, or it was done by the intelligence service”.
According to a Turkish news agency report police had detained 14 suspected IS members in the central Turkish city of Konya, but it was not clear if the detentions were related to the twin blasts in Ankara.
The attacks occurred outside the Ankara train station where an estimated 14,000 protesters were attending a peaceful rally organised by several NGOs - the Confederation of Public Sector Trade Unions (KESK), the Confederation of Revolutionary Trade Unions of Turkey (DISK), the Turkish Medical Association (TTB) and the Union of Chambers of Turkish Engineers and Architects (TMMOB). The first bomb exploded amidst protesters of the pro-Kurdish Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP), who had not begun the march yet, and were holding hands chanting anti-government slogans. The second blast was seconds after and hit demonstrators of the pro-Partizan Kaldirac Party, who happened to be amidst the larger group of HDP protesters.
Shortly after the attacks, the HDP, the main target group, issued a statement addressed to the international community in which it complained that, "there were no police around the crime scene when the explosion occurred. The riot (police) arrived at the place after 15 minutes. But when they arrived, they attacked people who wanted to help the injured with tear gas bombs". If their claims are correct, it would make the Ankara protests an exception to the rule in Turkey, where protests are conducted under heavy police control. The HDP statement also spoke about a previous attack on them, at 6:00am on October 10, which was an attempt to damage their headquarters in Ankara, and which the HDP claims is connected to the bomb blasts four hours later.
Ankara's official position is that the blasts were carried out by two suicide bombers, according to Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu. The state-run Anadolu News Agency quoted two security officials, who asked not to be named, who claimed that the bombs were "made of TNT explosives with metal balls added to make projectiles" - a method reminiscent of the deadly bomb blast in Suruc on July 20, for which IS claimed responsibility. IS' Turkey Twitter account congratulated the attack, but didn't claim responsiblity.
At the same time, Davutoglu was quoted late last week claiming that Turkey had arrested many suicide bombers who were trying to cross the border from Iraq. If the accounts are corroborated, the most likely affiliation of the presumed suicide bombers would be the Kurdish militant group PKK, because IS has no control over Turkey's border with Iraq. Twitter was full on October 10 with responses of "disgust" at media reports that the PKK could be behind the attacks against pro-Kurdish protesters, and complaints that this was a staged attack to coincide with the PKK's calls for a unilateral ceasefire.
Dr Can Erimtan, an independent scholar, historian, journalist and writer residing in Istanbul, says it's "obvious" that there is a connection between the October 10 twin attacks in Ankara and what happened in Suruc on July 20. "It is the same methodology... Voices have emerged in Turkey accusing the government of colluding with the IS for these attacks and of employing IS to counteract the growth of the Kurdish movement in Turkey. What happened yesterday bares the hallmarks of that, and it would stand to reason that there could be some government complicity in there."
Emritan believes the only party that will benefit from this is the AKP. "The first reaction of people might be that the HDP will now get more sympathy votes, which may be true, but the Kurds are a limited group - 10% of the population, and the sympathy vote will be minor. On the other hand, the AKP's electorate is concerned with terrorist attacks and will turn to the government for protection and safeguarding. So I think that the only one who will benefit from this attack is the ruling party," he says.
A strange aside is that on October 10 journalist Mehmet Faraç of Halk TV revealed that a Twitter user using the handle @AnatoliTodorov and going by the name of Pir Ozan Abdal had tweeted a series of statements between 12am and 1am on October 10 in which he described a big terrorist attack that would take place at the Ankara. The Twitter account has since been closed, but left-leaning social media picked up on them and they are circulating on Turkish websites.
Translations of the tweets are as follows:
*A legal rally is organized by KESK, DISK (unions). But things can change dramatically given the current political atmosphere in the country
*(Pro-Kurdish) HDP supporters will be there. Their presence may anger Turkish nationalists and the state.
*There will be a huge crowd at Ankara rally, a possible police intervention could result in a catastrophe like the one back in 1977’s May Day rally.
*The scariest scenario: an attack like the one in Suruc. A possible bomb attack could result in one of the deadliest massacres.
T-21 until snap elections
The timing of the bomb blasts is highly sensitive, as Turkey will be holding snap elections on November 1, after a similar round of elections in June failed to deliver a coalition government. Violence has escalated in the months since the first elections, after the ceasefire between the PKK and Ankara was ended and the ethnic conflict that has divided Turkey for decades was reignited.
Whoever was behind Saturday's attacks, their intention is clear: to disseminate panic and wreak havoc, and to further accentuate the schisms in Turkish society and politics. That the governing Justice and Development Party (AKP) would seek to exacerbate the polarisation in Turkish society is in line with what the Erdogan administration has pursued since 2010, according to Dr Zenonas Tziarras, an analyst on security and Turkey at the Europe Levant Observatory of the University of Nicosia.
"What Erdogan is doing, and the violence that he has brought upon his country may play a very negative role on the results of the November (parliamentary) elections for his party," he told bne Intellinews. A victimised HDP could secure enough popular sympathy to garner at least 13% of the votes, as it did back in the June elections, he added.
Other observers claim that the contrary is true; that creating an environment of insecurity would dissuade voters, particularly those residing in large cities like Ankara, Izmir, and Istanbul - a large percentage of whom are anti-establishment - from heading to the voting stations in November. That would grant the governing AKP a distinct advantage at the polls, as Turkey's rural electorate is likely to vote for the ruling party.
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