Erdogan, Kurdish Leader in War of Words After Bombing

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Selahattin Demirtas, co-chair of the pro-Kurdish Peoples' Democratic Party waves to supporters from the top of his election campaign bus before delivering a speech at a rally in Istanbul, June 6, 2015Credit: AP

Turkey’s Kurdish-rooted opposition party, which could scupper Tayyip Erdogan’s ambitions for sweeping new powers, on Saturday accused the president of a lack of respect for supporters who were killed in a bomb attack in an election rally on Friday and demanded that he issue an apology.

Erdogan countered by accusing the leader of the Peoples’ Democratic Party, or HDP, Selahattin Demirtas, of instigating violence in October that was linked to events in Syria and in which dozens of people were killed.

Chanting “Murderer Erdogan” and bearing a banner declaring “peace despite everything,” hundreds marched to the scene of Friday’s attacks in the mainly Kurdish southeastern city of Diyarbakir.

Others joined a convoy of cars heading to a funeral for a 16-year-old boy who died in the bomb attack. Onlookers made the victory sign and chanted “martyrs don’t die” and “AKP you will pay for this,” in a reference to the Turkish initials of Erdogan’s ruling Justice and Development Party.

HDP deputy Idris Baluken told Reuters his party had told the government it believed anti-HDP rhetoric from Erdogan and the AKP Party had paved the way for the attacks.

Two explosions sent ball bearings and nails tearing into a crowd of tens of thousands at Friday, killing two people and injuring over 200.

Demirtas said Erdogan went ahead with his own rally after news of the bombing broke without referring to it or to the people affected.

Erdogan later offered his condolences on what he termed a “provocation” designed to undermine today’s election. He did not spell out who he believed to be the provocateur.

“He needs to apologize to them, express his sadness to them,” Demirtas told a rally on the Asian side of Istanbul.

“He should go to Diyarbakir. Is he not the president of 77 million people? He ought to leave flowers where people were killed,” Demirtas said.

Erdogan, the most popular politician in Turkey but accused by opponents of authoritarian tendencies, seeks a large majority for his AKP today to furnish him with the powerful presidency he believes Turkey must have. However, if the HDP clears a 10-percent hurdle to enter parliament, that could rob AKP of dozens of seats and thwart his ambitions.

‘We’ll give our answer at the ballot box’

Polls suggest such a result is within the HDP’s grasp, drawing as the party now is on non-Kurdish center-left and secularist sympathers as Erdogan’s religious tone has become more pronounced.

At a rally in eastern Turkey, Erdogan said it was Demirtas who should apologize, accusing him of instigating violence that broke out when Kurds in the town of Kobani, just across the Syrian border, came under siege from Islamic State militants.

Demirtas accused pro-government newspapers of giving scant coverage of Friday’s attacks. He held up their front pages as he spoke to thousands from atop a campaign bus in Istanbul.

“I know we are angry, but we will not act in anger. We will act in good conscience. We will be smart and we will give our answer at the ballot box and stand up for our country,” he said.

Demirtas said his party has been the target of 140 violent attacks during the campaign, including a double bombing in southern Turkish cities last month that injured six.

He says the HDP will continue to promote peace talks between Kurdish rebels and the government whatever the election outcome.

Erdogan has accused the HDP of being a front for the Kurdistan Workers Party, or PKK, which took up arms in 1984 in an insurgency that has killed 40,000 people.

The jailed PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan and the government in Ankara launched peace talks more than two years ago.

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