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Ankara Bombings: Thousands Mourn Victims of Deadly Turkey Attack

by Keir Simmons and The Associated Press /  / Updated 

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ANKARA, Turkey — Thousands mourned the 95 victims of Turkey's deadliest attack in years as state inspectors tried Sunday to identify who sent suicide bombers to a rally promoting peace with Kurdish rebels.

The government said Kurdish rebels or Islamic State militants were likely responsible, while mourners accused President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of fomenting violence to gain votes for the ruling party.

No one has claimed responsibility, but the attack bears similarities to a suicide bombing the government blames on the Islamic State group that killed 33 Turkish and Kurdish peace activists near a town bordering Syria in July.

Police detained 14 suspected Islamic State members Sunday in the central Turkish city of Konya, but it wasn't clear if they were related.

Some Turkish media declared that peace itself was under attack. The bombers struck hours before Kurdish rebels battling Turkish security forces followed through with plans to declare a unilateral cease-fire, to reduce tensions leading up to Nov. 1 elections.

Turkey's government rejected the declaration, saying the rebels must lay down arms for good and leave the country.

While no one group has been ruled out in the bombings, government opponents blamed security forces for failing to protect the peace rally.

On Sunday, police fired tear gas and scuffled with the mourners — some chanting "Murderer Erdogan!" — who tried to reach the blast site to lay carnations. A group of about 70 was eventually allowed to enter the cordoned off area.

Sahin Bulut, 19, said his best friend, 22-year-old Guney Dogan, was killed in the bombing, which Bulut witnessed.

"The time between the two explosions was about five seconds and he caught the second explosion," Bulut told NBC News, describing a scene with people strewn across the ground with blown off limbs.

Another friend of Dogan’s, Mazlum Gunduz, said he was "a very sensitive person — whenever there was a demonstration he was there." Gunduz said Dogan was a civil engineering student and "one of the best students."

More than 10,000 also gathered in Turkey's mostly Kurdish southeastern city of Diyarbakir, holding a moment of silence for the victims, including hundreds of wounded.

Thousands also demonstrated in Istanbul on Saturday, blaming the government.

Image: People gather in a square during a commemoration for the victims of Saturday's bomb blasts in the Turkish capital, in Ankara, Turkey
People gather during a commemoration for the victims of Saturday's bomb blasts in Ankara.UMIT BEKTAS / Reuters

Erdogan is hoping the ruling party regains its political majority, and critics accuse him of intensifying attacks on Kurds to rally nationalist votes. They worry the bombings could entice rogue Kurdish forces to attack, persuading Turks to seek security over peace.

The Islamic State group, which is fighting Syrian Kurdish forces allied to Turkey's Kurdish rebels, could benefit the most from this, since a continued military offensive within Turkey would take pressure off the extremist group in Syria.

Regardless of who may have planned the attack, it showed how deeply Turkey is being drawn into the chaos in Syria, with which it shares a 900 km-long border.

Turkey already hosts some 2.2 million refugees from Syria — more than any other nation — and extremists use Turkish territory to enter or exit the fray, increasing the threat of violence.

Electoral gains by the People's Democracy Party in June deprived the ruling party, which Erdogan founded, of its parliamentary majority after a decade of single-party rule. The new election was called after the ruling party failed to strike a coalition deal.

Opinion polls indicate that the ruling party is unlikely to regain a majority, again forcing it to build a governing coalition. Just how Saturday's bombings will affect all this remains to be seen.

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