ANKARA (AFP) - Anger towards President Recep Tayyip Erdogan over Turkey’s worst-ever terrorist attack intensified as authorities raced to identify the two male suicide bombers it blamed for the bloodshed.
The streets of Ankara on Sunday (Oct 11) filled with anti-government and pro-Kurdish protesters accusing the government of responsibility for the blast that ripped through a peace rally a day earlier, with several shouting “Erdogan murderer” and “government resign!” In Istanbul on Saturday, a 10,000-strong crowd accused the government of failing to protect citizens by providing security for the event, carrying placards reading “the state is a killer” and “we know the murderers”.
As tributes poured in from world leaders, Selahattin Demirtas, leader of the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), was cited as saying “State attacked the people. Condolences recipient should be the people not Erdogan” on the party’s Twitter account.
In an emotional address to mourners in Ankara, Demirtas said that citizens should aim to end Erdogan’s rule, starting with the upcoming legislative elections.
“We are not going to act out of revenge and hatred. But we are going to ask for (people to be held to) account,” he added, saying the vote would be part of a process to “topple the dictator.”
The party believes the death toll now stands at 128, higher than the 97 people the prime minister’s office said were killed when the bombs exploded on Saturday morning as leftist and pro-Kurdish activists assembled by the city’s main train station.
The official toll also said 507 people were wounded, with 160 still in hospital and 65 in intensive care in 19 hospitals.
The government, which has denied any responsibility in the incident, is attempting to identify the two male suicide bombers it blamed for the bloodshed, but the strike has not yet been claimed by any group.
Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said groups including the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and the far-left Revolutionary People’s Liberation Party-Front (DHKP-C) were capable of carrying out such an attack.
“Work is continuing to identify the corpses of the two male terrorists who carried out the suicide bombings", his office said on Sunday.
An AFP correspondent said the scene of the blast was littered with ball bearings, indicating the explosions were intended to cause maximum damage.
The attack came just under three months after a suicide bombing blamed on the Islamic State group in the town of Suruc, on the Syrian border, killed 33 people. It also targeted peace activists.
The bombings have raised tensions in Turkey just three weeks before snap elections are due on Nov 1 and as the military wages an offensive against ISIS militants and Kurdish militants.
With the country on edge, Erdogan issued a statement condemning the “heinous” bombings and cancelled a planned visit to Turkmenistan but he has yet to speak in public since the attack that shocked the nation.
Even before the attacks, the president was under immense political pressure after his Justice and Development Party (AKP) lost its overall majority in June 7 polls for the first time since it came to power in 2002.
Coalition talks failed and Erdogan called new elections. But to the disappointment of the AKP, opinion polls show the outcome may be little different to the previous ballot.
The Ankara death toll surpasses that of the May 2013 twin bombings in Reyhanli on the Syrian border that killed over 50 people, making the attack the deadliest in the history of the Turkish Republic.
LINK TO ISIS?
As investigations into the identity of the perpetrators continue, NTV television said the Suruc and Ankara attacks were similar both in style and the type of bombs used. The same forensic experts sent to Suruc are now working in Ankara.
The Hurriyet and Haberturk dailies reported that the elder brother of Abdurrahman Alagoz, who carried out the Suruc suicide bombing, could be implicated in the Ankara blasts.
The Suruc bombing caused one of the most serious flare-ups in Turkey in recent times as the PKK accused the government of collaborating with ISIS and resumed attacks on the security forces after an over two-year truce.
The military hit back, launching a “war on terror” against the Kurdish militants.
The PKK on Saturday unexpectedly announced it would suspend all attacks – except in self defence – ahead of the polls.
But the Turkish army kept up its campaign with more air raids on southeast Turkey and northern Iraq, killing 49 suspected militants over the last two days, the official Anatolia news agency reported.