ANKARA, Oct 10 (Reuters) – Twin explosions outside the main train station in the Turkish capital Ankara killed at least 20 people on Saturday as hundreds gathered for a peace rally, in what government officials described as a terrorist attack.
UPDATE 16:22 GMT: The death toll is now believed to be at least 86.
A Reuters reporter saw at least 20 bodies covered by flags and banners, including those of the pro-Kurdish opposition Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), with bloodstains and body parts scattered on the road.
Authorities were investigating claims the attacks were carried out by a suicide bomber, two government officials told Reuters. Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu was due to hold an emergency meeting with the heads of the police and intelligence agencies and other senior officials, his office said.
Witnesses said the two explosions happened seconds apart shortly after 10:00 am (0700 GMT) as hundreds gathered for a planned “peace” march to protest against the conflict between Turkish security forces and Kurdish militants in the southeast.
Violence between the state and the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) militants has flared since July, when Turkey launched air strikes on militant camps in response to what it said were rising attacks on the security forces. Hundreds have since died.
Those involved in the peace march tended to the wounded lying on the ground, as hundreds of stunned people wandered around the streets. Bodies lay in two circles around 20 metres apart where the explosions had taken place.
The attacks come three weeks ahead of a parliamentary election in Turkey and at a time of multiple security threats, not only in the restive southeast but also from Islamic State militants in neighbouring Syria and home-grown leftist militants.
The NATO member has been in a heightened state of alert since starting a “synchronized war on terror” in July, including air strikes against Islamic State fighters in Syria and PKK bases in northern Iraq. It has also rounded up hundreds of suspected militants at home.
Designated a terrorist group by Turkey, the United States and the European Union, the PKK launched a separatist insurgency in 1984 in which more than 40,000 people have been killed.
The state launched peace talks with the PKK’s jailed leader in 2012 and the latest in a series of ceasefires had been holding until the violence flared again in July.
(By Ece Toksabay and Orhan Coskun; Writing by Daren Butler and Nick Tattersall; Editing by Susan Fenton)