x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

Kurdish rebels deny responsibility for Istanbul bombing

The rebels, who are fighting the Turkish government, have denied any responsibility for the bomb in Taksim Square on Sunday.

ISTANBUL // Kurdish rebels fighting the Turkish government yesterday denied any involvement in Sunday's suicide bombing in Istanbul and prolonged a truce until next year.

"We have absolutely nothing to do with this action," the leadership of the Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK, said in a statement carried by pro-Kurdish media. The rebel group added it was not its practice to hurt civilians.

The attack on Taksim Square in the centre of Istanbul killed the suicide bomber and injured 15 police officers as well as 17 civilians. Only days before the attack, a PKK leader said publicly the group would make sure no civilian would be harmed in its clashes with Turkish security forces.

No organisation has claimed responsibility for Sunday's attack, and Turkish police have said it is too early to say anything definite about those behind it. But Turkish politicians have indicated they hold the PKK responsible, as the attack came on the last day of a ceasefire called by the group in the summer.

In what looked like an answer to those accusations, the PKK, which has been fighting for Kurdish self-rule since 1984 in a war that has cost tens of thousands of lives, said in a second statement it had prolonged its current ceasefire until general elections in Turkey planned for next June.

"To turn the ceasefire into a definite truce, the Turkish state also has to adhere to the ceasefire on all levels," the PKK said.

It also listed five demands to pave the way for a peaceful solution of the Kurdish question in Turkey: Ankara should stop what the PKK called "military and political" operations against the rebels; free Kurdish politicians currently in jail; step up dialogue with Abdullah Ocalan, the jailed PKK leader; and set up commissions to tackle constitutional questions and to investigate extrajudicial killings by security forces in the Kurdish area.

Finally, Turkey should lower the threshold of 10 percent of the vote a party needs to enter parliament after an election, the PKK said. The 10 percent hurdle is widely seen as an instrument to keep Kurdish parties out of Turkey's national parliament. In the last elections in 2007, Kurdish politicians entered parliament as independent candidates.

The PKK statements came as Aysel Tugluk, a leading Kurdish politician, visited Ocalan on the prison island of Imrali to talk about possible ways to end the Kurdish conflict. Although he has been in prison since 1999, Ocalan is still a very influential figure among Turkey's estimated twelve million Kurds.

tseibert@thenational.ae