Posts Tagged Istanbul

Ankara Rocked By Terrorist Car Bomb

AnkaraAt least 28 people were killed and 61 wounded Wednesday by a car bomb targeting the Turkish military in the heart of the capital Ankara, the latest in a string of attacks to shake the country.

The blast struck a convoy of military service vehicles but it was still not clear who carried it out, said Deputy Prime Minister Numan Kurtulmus, confirming the latest toll.

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan vowed retaliation against the perpetrators of the attack, which came on the heels of a spate of deadly strikes in Turkey blamed on jihadists but also on Kurdish rebels.

The car bomb detonated when a convoy of military buses carrying dozens of soldiers stopped at traffic lights in central Ankara, creating scenes of panic and chaos.

“This attack has very clearly targeted our esteemed nation as a whole and was carried out in a vile, dishonourable, treacherous and insidious way,” said Kurtulmus.

Plumes of smoke could be seen from all over the city rising from the scene, close to the headquarters of the Turkish military and the parliament.

The powerful blast was heard throughout Ankara, sending alarmed residents rushing to their balconies. The army said the attack took place at 1631 GMT and had targeted “service vehicles carrying army personnel”.

Without specifying what the retaliation could entail, Erdogan warned that “Turkey will not shy away from using its right to self-defence at any time, any place or any occasion.”

“Our determination to respond in kind to attacks taking place inside and outside our borders is getting stronger,” he said.

Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu cancelled a planned visit to Brussels on Thursday, his office said. Erdogan also shelved a trip to Azerbaijan.

A mini-summit on Europe’s refugee crisis gathering 11 EU countries and Turkey scheduled for Thursday was cancelled due to Davutoglu’s absence, diplomats said.

In Ankara, ambulances and fire engines were sent to the scene and wounded victims were seen being taken away on stretchers.

Images showed fire-fighters trying to overcome a fierce blaze engulfing wrecked service buses that were gutted by the blast.

Turkish police threw a security cordon around the area. A second blast later rocked the area, but officials said this was police detonating a suspicious package.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said the alliance strongly condemned the bombing. “NATO Allies stand shoulder to shoulder in the fight against terrorism,” he said.

French President Francois Hollande denounced the attack as “odious”.

“We are with Turkey and its people in these difficult times,” added EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini.

Kurtulmus acknowledged that “we don’t have any information yet about who carried out this attack” but vowed the perpetrators “will be revealed as soon as possible.”

The Islamic State group has been blamed for a slew of bombings in the country since the middle of last year but the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) has also killed dozens of soldiers in attacks mainly in the southeast of the country.

The capital was already on alert after 103 people were killed on October 10 when two suicide bombers blew themselves up in a crowd of peace activists in Ankara, the bloodiest attack in the country’s modern history.

Eleven people, all German tourists, were also killed on January 16 when a suicide bomber blew himself up in the tourist heart of Istanbul.

Those attacks were blamed on IS jihadists, as were two other deadly bombings in the country’s Kurdish-dominated southeast earlier in the year.

But Turkey is also waging an all-out assault on the outlawed PKK which has repeatedly attacked members of the security forces with roadside bombings on their convoys in the southeast.

The PKK launched an insurgency against the Turkish state in 1984, initially fighting for Kurdish independence although now more for greater autonomy and rights for the country’s largest ethnic minority.

The conflict, which has left tens of thousands of people dead, looked like it could be nearing a resolution until an uneasy truce was shattered in July.

Meanwhile, Turkish artillery in southern Turkey shelled positions of Kurdish fighters in Syria for the fifth day in the row on Wednesday in an escalating standoff, reports said.

Turkey says the Syrian Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD) and its People’s Protection Units (YPG) are merely the Syrian branch of the PKK and themselves terror groups.

The banned ultra-left Revolutionary People’s Liberation Party–Front (DHKP-C) has also staged a string of usually small-scale attacks in Istanbul over the last few months.



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Turkey Launches Strikes Against Islamic State in Syria

Turkey airstrikesTurkish warplanes struck Islamic State group targets across the border in Syria on Friday, government officials said, a day after IS militants fired at a Turkish military outpost, killing a soldier.

The bombing is a strong tactical shift for Turkey which had long been reluctant to join the U.S.-led coalition against the extremist group.

A government official said three F-16 jets took off from Diyarbakir airbase in southeast Turkey early Friday and used smart bombs to hit three IS targets. The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of government rules requiring authorization for comment, said the targets were two command centers and a gathering point of IS supporters.

Turkish media said the targets were the Syrian village of Havar, near the border, but officials would not confirm the location.

The private Dogan news agency said as many as 35 IS militants were killed in the airstrike that targeted the gathering point. The agency did not cite a source for the report and there was no official confirmation.

A government statement said the decision for the operation was taken at a security meeting on Thursday, held after five IS militants fired from Syrian territory at the outpost and prompting Turkish retaliation that killed at least one IS militant.

The official said the Turkish planes did not violate Syrian airspace.

The bombing followed a decision by Turkey this week to allow the U.S. military to use the key Incirlik air base near the Syrian border to launch airstrikes against the Islamic State, senior U.S. officials said.

Turkey has yet to publicly confirm the agreement, which U.S. officials discussed on condition of anonymity because they weren’t authorized to comment publicly. Citing operational security, the White House declined to confirm the agreement, but noted that President Barack Obama and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan had agreed to “deepen our cooperation” against IS in their phone call Wednesday.

The agreement follows months of U.S. appeals to Turkey and delicate negotiations over the use of Incirlik and other bases by the U.S.-led coalition — a sensitive topic in Turkey.

American officials said access to the base in southern Turkey would allow the U.S. to move more swiftly and nimbly to attack IS targets.

On Friday, Turkish police launched a major operation against terror groups including IS, carrying out simultaneous raids in Istanbul and 12 provinces and detaining more than 250 people, a government statement said. The state-run Anadolu Agency said as many as 5,000 police officers were involved in the operation which was also targeting the PKK Kurdish rebel group and the outlawed far-left group, DHKP-C.

The agency said 98 people were detained in Istanbul 36 of them foreign nationals. It did not given details on their home countries.

One DHKP-C suspect, a woman, was killed in a gunfight with police in Istanbul, Anadolu reported.

Turkey’s moves came as the country finds itself drawn further into the conflict by a series of deadly attacks and signs of increased IS activity inside the country.

Earlier in the week, a suicide bombing blamed on IS militants killed 32 people in a town near the Syrian border.

Turkish officials have raised concerns that the bombing was part of a campaign of retaliation for Turkey’s recent crackdown on IS operations in the country. In the last six months, Turkish officials say, more than 500 people suspected of working with IS have been detained.


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PKK Leader Hopeful of Successful Outcome in Turkish Peace Talks

The PKK Celebrates the Kurdish New YearThe jailed leader of Turkey’s outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) said Sunday he was hopeful the peace process with the authorities would be concluded successfully within five months with enough determination.

In a statement made public after pro-Kurdish lawmakers visited him in his island prison off Istanbul, Abdullah Ocalan said that a framework for the peace talks to end the three-decade rebellion was about to be finalised.

“He (Ocalan) discussed it with the state officials in detail and they agreed that there is a framework on which negotiations could be carried out,” the statement said.

“If the parties execute the process in a consistent, responsible and determined manner, a major democratic solution that could determine the future of the whole Middle East could be reached within 4-5 months.”

Ocalan however did not specify any solid plans or expectations from the Turkish government in return, but said “the framework will soon be unveiled.”

The PKK, whose rebellion for self-rule left 40,000 dead, had given the government until mid-October to show it is serious about the peace process. But Ankara has yet to come up with a comprehensive road map.

The peace process had appeared to be making progress, until the standoff over the Syrian Kurdish town of Kobane besieged by Islamic State (IS) jihadists. Kurds have been infuriated by the lack of action by Turkey against IS.

In a new upsurge of violence, the Turkish army on Saturday confirmed the jihadists had staged an attack at the Mursitpinar border close to Kobane.

But the army vehemently denied allegations by pro-Kurdish media that the car involved in the strike had come from Turkish territory.

The pro-Kurdish People’s Democratic Party (HDP) on Sunday put down a parliamentary question to the Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, asking for an investigation on whether the attack had been staged from Turkey.


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Kerry Makes Plea for Syrian Opposition to Join Peace Talks

John KerryOn the eve of a key meeting, US Secretary of State John Kerry Thursday made a powerful plea to the divided Syrian opposition to join landmark peace talks aimed at installing a new government.

Next week’s peace conference in Switzerland was “the best opportunity for the opposition to achieve the goals of the Syrian people and the revolution,” Kerry said in a surprise statement to reporters.

Despite months of cajoling and negotiations, the Syrian opposition has yet to agree to sit down at the table with members of the Syrian regime of President Bashar al-Assad to chart a path to end the war.

The UN-led peace conference, to be attended by some 35 countries, will open on January 22 in the Swiss city of Montreux, and then move to Geneva.

It will be the first time that the two sides have come together since the conflict erupted in March 2011, unleashing a brutal war which has claimed over 130,000 lives, and created millions of refugees.

Complicating the situation is the presence of extremist groups which flooded into Syria, leaving the more moderate US-backed opposition fighting both Assad’s forces and Islamic militants.

Kerry, who only returned early Thursday from an overseas trip during which he attended a Syria donor’s conference in Kuwait, stressed the US was “deeply concerned about the rise of extremism.”

“The world needs no reminder that Syria has become the magnet for jihadists and extremists. It is the strongest magnet for terror of any place today,” he warned.

The Syrian Opposition Coalition is due to vote Friday in Istanbul, and Kerry sought to ally their fears that the Geneva talks will somehow legitimize Assad’s regime and leave him clinging to power.

A key bloc in the Coalition, the Syrian National Council, has however threatened to pull out, if the General Assembly votes in favour of attending.

The aim of the talks is to find a way to install a transitional government — as agreed to in a June 2012 deal known as Geneva I.

The opposition can veto any names put forward for the transitional governing body, as does the regime, the top US diplomat stressed.

“Any names put forward for leadership of Syria’s transition must, according to the terms of Geneva I … those names must be agreed to by both the opposition and the regime,” he said.

“This means that any figure that is deemed unacceptable by either side, whether President Assad or a member of the opposition cannot be a part of the future,” Kerry added.

Thursday’s statement was just the latest bid by the US administration to pressure the Syrian opposition to attend the conference, which has been in the planning since May, with US ambassador to Damascus Robert Ford having spent months huddled in talks to bring them together.

At the weekend Kerry also met with opposition National Coalition leader Ahmad Jarba in Paris.

Although he did not make a firm commitment to attend the talks dubbed Geneva II, Jarba did indicate he had been reassured by the tone of Sunday’s discussions.

“We all agreed that there is no future for Bashar al-Assad and his family in Syria,” he said. “His departure is inevitable.”

Kerry insisted Thursday: “The Syrian people need to be able to determine the future of their country, their voice must be heard.”

“It defies logic to imagine that those whose brutality” had allowed extremists to flood into the country “could ever lead Syria away from extremism and towards a better future,” he insisted, reiterating the US position that Assad cannot play any role in a future Syrian government.

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