x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

Soldiers killed in remote-controlled bomb attack on Istanbul bus

Attack comes as Turkey face growing pressure to prevent further escalation of 30-year-old conflict with Kurds.

ISTANBUL // A remote-control bomb killed five people in an attack on a convoy carrying military personnel and their relatives near the international airport of Turkey's metropolis Istanbul yesterday. Turkish politicians and generals are coming under growing pressure to find ways to avert a further escalation of the Kurdish conflict, which has plagued the country for almost 30 years. The Kurdistan Freedom Falcons, or TAK, claimed responsibility for the attack and warned civilians to stay away from army targets, according to a statement carried by pro-Kurdish Firat News Agency. The TAK is a suspected sub-group of the Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK, a rebel organisation that has been fighting the Turkish state since 1984.

Four soldiers and the 17-year-old daughter of a serviceman died in the blast, which ripped open the last of three white buses carrying members of the Jandarma, a paramilitary force belonging to the armed forces and charged with police duties outside Turkey's metropolitan areas. The blast, which also injured 10 soldiers, was triggered by a mobile phone, police said. After the explosion, police sealed off the area and searched for a possible second bomb. "The terror has reached the cities," the NTV news channel said. Yesterday's attack took place near the site of another attack on June 8, when a bomb blew up a police bus, injuring 15 officers. The TAK claimed responsibility for that attack and said it was "just the beginning" of a new bombing campaign. Turkish experts say the PKK, created the TAK in order to have an instrument to attack civilian targets without being blamed for the violence. The PKK has denied this, but the TAK regards Abdullah Ocalan, the jailed PKK leader, as its leader and steps up its attacks whenever the PKK does so.

In a meeting with his lawyer on the prison island of Imrali near Istanbul, where he is serving a life sentence, Mr Ocalan said last month he was withdrawing from what he called his efforts to bring a peaceful solution to the Kurdish question because the Turkish state would not negotiate with him. At the same time, the PKK said it was planning new attacks. Since then the rebels have killed dozens of soldiers in several attacks in eastern and south-eastern Anatolia, 13 since last weekend, while the military said it killed 21 PKK fighters since June 14. By escalating its attacks, the PKK wants to force Ankara to accept Mr Ocalan as an interlocutor. The Turkish government has consistently rejected that demand. In an emergency meeting on Monday, the political and military leadership said it would step up its fight against the PKK.

Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the prime minister, has come under fire from Turkish and Kurdish nationalists alike for trying to solve the Kurdish conflict by a programme of reforms called "Democratic Opening". The plan, which includes an extension of language rights for Turkey's estimated 12 million Kurds, has been criticised as a sell-out to Kurdish separatism by Turkish nationalists, while Kurdish politicians say it does not go far enough. In a speech yesterday Mr Erdogan said he would not abandon the "Opening" and called on the opposition parties to co-operate with the government. At the same time, he again rejected talks with Mr Ocalan or the PKK. "The terrorist organisation is not the representative and spokesman of my Kurdish brothers," he said. "It never was and never will be." But Devlet Bahceli, the leader of the right wing Nationalist Movement Party yesterday said the "Opening" was a "project of treason". But the pressure on the politicians to do something is mounting. Comparing the years since 1984, when the PKK took up arms, to a "horror movie", Umit Boyner, the president of the Turkish Industrialists' and Businessmen's Association, or Tusiad, a politically powerful business organisation, called on all political parties to come together. "Terror has once again become the most important item on Turkey's agenda," she said earlier this week.