ANKARA • At least 86 people were killed when two suicide bombers hit a rally of pro-Kurdish and leftist activists outside Ankara's main train station yesterday, weeks ahead of an election, in the deadliest attack of its kind on Turkish soil.
Bodies covered by flags and banners, including those of the pro-Kurdish opposition Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP), lay scattered on the road among bloodstains and body parts.
"Like other terror attacks, the one at the Ankara train station targets our unity, togetherness, brotherhood and future," President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said in a statement, calling for "solidarity and determination".
There were no claims of responsibility for the attack. But a Turkish government official said the authorities "suspect that there is a terrorist connection", without giving further details.
Health Minister Mehmet Muezzinoglu told a news conference that 86 people had been killed and 186 wounded, 28 of whom were in intensive care. The death toll could rise further.
The Singapore Embassy in Ankara has verified no Singaporeans were affected by the explosions.
Witnesses said the two explosions happened seconds apart shortly after 10am as hundreds gathered for a planned march to protest against a conflict between Turkish security forces and Kurdish militants in the south-east.
"I heard one big explosion first and tried to cover myself as the windows broke. Right away there was the second one," said a train station newspaper-stand worker named Serdar, 37.
Turkey, a Nato member, has been in a heightened state of alert since starting a "synchronised war on terror" in July, including air strikes against Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) fighters in Syria and Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) bases in northern Iraq. It has also rounded up hundreds of suspected Kurdish and Islamist militants at home.
The attacks, in the scale of casualties, exceeded events in 2003, when two synagogues, the Istanbul HSBC headquarters and the British consulate were hit with a total loss of 62 lives. The authorities said those attacks bore the hallmarks of Al-Qaeda.
Interior Minister Selami Altinok yesterday said he would not resign, denying there was a "security vacuum" in policing at the rally.
The bombings came as expectations mounted that PKK militants would announce a unilateral ceasefire, effectively restoring a truce that collapsed in July.
The government had already dismissed the anticipated move as an election gambit to bolster the HDP, whose success at the June elections had helped erode the ruling AK party's majority.
Hours after the bombing, the PKK ordered its fighters to halt operations in Turkey unless they faced attack. It said through the Firat news website it would avoid acts that could hinder a "fair and just election" on Nov 1.
Some activists saw the hand of the state in the attacks on Kurdish interests, accusing Mr Erdogan and the AK party of seeking to stir up nationalist sentiment, a charge Turkey's leaders have vehemently rejected.
With international concern growing over instability in the key Nato member, EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini urged Turkey to "stand united against terrorists".
French President Francois Hollande condemned the "odious terrorist attack", while Russian President Vladimir Putin passed his condolences to Mr Erdogan.
Singapore yesterday sent condolences to Turkey and condemned the attacks, said a spokesman for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
"Singapore condemns the bomb blasts in Ankara and is saddened by the loss of innocent lives. We convey our condolences to the families of the victims, and wish the injured a speedy recovery," said the spokesman.
REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE