updated 9/13/2006 6:34:57 AM ET 2006-09-13T10:34:57

Police raided houses on Wednesday in a major security crackdown in Diyarbakir, the largest city in Turkey’s mainly Kurdish southeast, after a bomb blast killed 11 people, five of them children.

It was the bloodiest attack in Turkey since suicide bombers killed more than 60 people in Istanbul in November 2003 and the latest in a series of explosions in Turkish cities, including coastal resorts, which have killed at least 16 people.

No one immediately claimed responsibility for the blast late on Tuesday at a bus stop in the city, in the heart of a region that has witnessed 22 years of conflict between Turkish security forces and rebels fighting for a Kurdish state.

“Our grief is great for the victims of this terror, especially as our children have been the victims,” Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan told a gathering of regional leaders.

The Kurdistan Liberation Hawks, a separatist militant group which claimed responsibility for attacks in late August, has threatened to turn Turkey into “hell”.

'I saw a bloodbath'
Witnesses said Tuesday’s blast, apparently triggered by a mobile phone, tore a hole half a yard across on the pavement and shattered the windows of nearby houses and offices. Firemen cleaned up bloodstains at the site.

“When I looked out I saw a bloodbath. Everyone wanted help. But there was no sound coming from some of the children whom I saw,” said resident Mahmut Coban, sitting at home at the time.

Hospitals were treating 13 people hurt in the blast, which occurred at 9 p.m. (1800 GMT) on a main street next to a park.

Police raided several houses in the Baglar district where the blast took place and blew up as many as 10 suspect bags in controlled explosions. No devices were found in the bags.

Police also set up checkpoints on roads leading out of town.

Residents were perplexed by the blast, given local support for rebels. The Human Rights Association in Diyarbakir issued a statement condemning the attack.

Mistakenly set off?
Police said they believed the device was set off by mistake and might have been intended for a police headquarters one mile away.

Diyarbakir Mayor Osman Baydemir said the attack was an attempt to sabotage efforts by Kurdish politicians to end separatist conflict in Turkey, which peaked in the 1990s.

“It is clear that this is a provocation and a bid to take us back to the 1990s. We must be unified in our feelings and actions to frustrate this provocation, this game,” he told reporters at the city’s airport.

He was returning from Ankara where Turkey’s main Kurdish political party, the Democratic Society Party, had urged the rebel Kurdistan Workers Party to declare a cease-fire.

In Ankara, Turkish officials on Wednesday discussed ways of combating the PKK with Washington’s recently appointed envoy on the issue, retired Air Force General Joseph Ralston.

Last month, TAK bombed a busy shopping area in the coastal resort of Antalya, killing three people and wounding dozens. That blast followed four bombs in the Mediterranean resort of Marmaris and in Istanbul which wounded 27 people.

Separately, police detained four people on Wednesday in the town of Koycegiz near the Mediterranean coast over an alleged plot to kill four former generals, including Kenan Evren, who became president after a 1980 military coup, CNN Turk said.

It said maps showing the generals’ houses, explosives and automatic weapons were seized in the raids. Police tightened security for the generals after the arrests.

The PKK took up arms in 1984 with the goal of creating a Kurdish homeland in southeast Turkey. More than 30,000 people have since been killed in the conflict.

Far-left and Islamist groups have also carried out bomb attacks in Turkey in the past.

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