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Turkish official says 7 soldiers killed in ambush

/ Source: The Associated Press

Attackers raked a military vehicle with automatic weapon fire on Monday, killing at least seven Turkish soldiers in an ambush in foggy weather in central Turkey, authorities said.

The vehicle came under fire near a military outpost near the town of Resadiye in the Tokat province, said Cihangir Guler, the local governor of Resadiye. Town Mayor Rafet Erdem said seven soldiers were killed and three others were wounded in the ambush.

Authorities could not identify the attackers but suspicion fell on Kurdish and leftist militants because it follows violent street protests by Kurdish rebel supporters across the country in recent weeks. At least two people have been killed and several injured in clashes in several cities.

Kurdish rebels rarely make incursions into the central Tokat region, far from their traditional battle areas in the southeast, though they have collaborated with illegal leftist groups in the area in the past. Leftist militants have also been known to carry out strikes there on their own.

The last attack on soldiers in the region was a nearly decade ago, when two Turkish soldiers were killed in ambush in Tokat in 2001. The attackers used rocket launchers to ambush security forces.

Monday's attack also comes on the eve of a critical court case in which Turkey's Constitutional Court will start deliberating whether to shut down the country's pro-Kurdish political party, which is often accused of being a front for the Kurdish rebel group.

Lawmakers from the pro-Kurdish Democratic Society Party have threatened to resign if their party is closed over charges of ties to the illegal rebel group. Several predecessors of the party were disbanded on the same grounds but each time the politicians regrouped under a new party.

Moments before the attack, Interior Minister Besir Atalay vowed to press ahead with a government overture seeking to reconcile with minority Kurds by expanding greater rights. His comments came in spite of street protests denouncing new prison conditions for rebel leader Abdullah Ocalan.

However, Atalay also said Turkey's military drive against the rebels branded as terrorists by the United States and the West will continue.

Kurdish rebels have been fighting for autonomy in Turkey's Kurdish dominated southeast in a war that killed tens of thousands of people since 1984.