Tensions ratcheted up in Turkey Saturday as angry Kurdish protesters demanded a full investigation for apparent bomb blasts at a political rally ahead of critical national elections.
Sunday’s vote is turning into the country’s tightest elections in years with President Recep Tayyip Erdogan seeking a mandate for potentially sweeping constitutional changes.
In comments published Saturday, Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said that the two explosions at a Kurdish party rally Friday in the southeastern city of Diyarbakir were acts of sabotage and provocation. At least two people were killed.
Minority voters crucial
Voters from Turkey’s Kurdish minority will be crucial in determining whether Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party gets the supermajority it seeks.
If successful, Erdogan’s party, known as the AKP, is expected to seek changes to the constitution to give the charismatic but divisive Erdogan more power.
Polls, however, have indicated that the party’s vote could be well below the almost 50 percent tally it reaped in the last elections in 2011 and may even need to form a coalition.
Selahattin Demirtas, who heads the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party, lambasted Erdogan for attending his own political rally Friday after news of the bombing broke and then for failing to mention the violence or the people affected.
“He needs to apologize to them, express his sadness to them,” Demirtas told a rally Saturday in Istanbul. “He should go to Diyarbakir. Is he not the president of 77 million people? He ought to leave flowers where people were killed.”
Erdogan later offered his condolences on what he termed a “provocation” designed to undermine Sunday’s election. He did not say who he believed to be the provocateur.
In a statement, prosecutors in Diyarbakir confirmed that two people had been killed and more than 100 wounded when the explosions tore through the crowd.
Ball bearings, nails and other metal parts from the device were gathered as evidence but no suspects have been identified, security sources told Reuters.
Chanting “Murderer Erdogan,” protesters marched through Diyarbakir Saturday, behind a banner declaring “Peace Despite Everything,” and laid red carnations at the scene of the blast.
Others chanted the “AKP will be held accountable.”
“Nobody has the power or the courage to conduct this attack except for the state. These are dark forces in the state,” said Sidki Zilhan, a Diyarbakir resident. “The government may not want this, but it is responsible because they are the government. It is their duty to prevent such blasts.”
The blast was the latest strike in the campaign against the Peoples’ Democratic Party, which represents Turkey’s Kurdish minority but is increasingly reaching out to secular Turks.
If the Kurdish party breaks a 10 percent threshold in Sunday’s vote, it would take seats from Erdogan’s.
Erdogan has accused the Kurdish party of being a front for the Kurdistan Workers Party, a banned organization that took up arms in 1984 in an insurgency that has left 40,000 people dead.
The group’s now jailed leader, Abdullah Ocalan, launched peace talks with the Turkish government two years ago
Mutlu Civiroglu of VOA’s Kurdish Service and Alparslan Esmer of VOA’s Turkish Service contributed to this report.