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 Turkish PM sorry over deadly strike on Kurdish civilians

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Turkish PM sorry over deadly strike on Kurdish civilians  30.12.2011  

Turkey's Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Photo: Getty Images

Members of the Kurdish community in France rip a picture of Turkish PM Recep Tayyip Erdogan on December 30, 2011 in Marseille, France, during a protest against an air strike by Turkish air force on civilian Kurds that killed 35 Kurdish villagers. Photo: Getty Images

People mount bodies onto mules after Turkey's air force attacked suspected Kurdish rebel targets across the border in Iraq, killing at least 35 civilian Kurds, many of them believed to be smugglers mistaken for guerrillas, near the Turkish village of Ortasu in Sirnak, Turkey, Thursday, Dec. 29. 2011. The Turkish military confirmed the Wednesday night raids, but said its jets struck an area of northern Iraq that is frequently used by Kurdish rebels to enter Turkey, after drones detected a group approaching Turkey's border. Photo: AP / AP
December 30, 2011

GULYAZI, The Kurdish region of Turkey, — Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan expressed regret Friday for the killing of 35 Kurdish civilians in an air strike as mourners vented their fury and rebels called for an uprising.

As locals buried their dead, Erdogan admitted that the victims of Wednesday night's attack near the Iraqi border were smugglers and not separatist rebels as the army had originally claimed.

The military also offered its condolences on Friday in a rare gesture that appeared to acknowledge its error, but neither it nor Erdogan were able to assuage the sense of grief among locals.

Speaking to journalists in Istanbul, Erdogan voiced his regret for what he called an "unfortunate and distressing" incident.

"Images transmitted by drones showed a group of 40 people in the area, it was impossible to say who they were," he said. "Afterwards it was determined they were smugglers transporting cigarettes and fuel on mules."

In his first reaction to the strike by Turkish air force F-16s, Erdogan said that "no state deliberately bombs its own people."

He said that separatist rebels of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) had used the same route and methods to bring weapons into Turkey to mount attacks, and called for critics to await the result of an official inquiry.

The acknowledgement that the strike had been an error was given short shrift by the PKK itself, a group regarded as a terrorist organisation both by the Ankara government and the West.

"This massacre was no accident ... It was organised and planned," Bahoz Erdal from the PKK's armed wing said in a statement.

"We urge the people of Kurdistan... to react after this massacre and seek a settling of accounts through uprisings," Erdal added.

The PKK uses the term "uprising" for sweeping civil disobedience as well as clashes with the police.

In November Turkey bombed the Sulaimaniyah and Erbil provinces of Iraq's autonomous northern Kurdish region, wounding a civilian, Kurdish officials said.

Since August 17, Turkish jets repeatedly carried out air strikes against the Kurdish PKK separatist group's bases in Iraqi Kurdistan region, under justification of chasing elements of the anti-Ankara PKK, forcing large numbers of Kurdish citizens of those areas to desert their home villages, including an air raid that killed 7 Kurdish civilians in a village north of Kurdistan’s Sulaimaniyah city on August 21, 2011.

In the village of Gulyazi, home to many of the victims, locals were also unmoved by the expressions of condolences as the funerals took place.

"This was no mistake," said one young woman, who lost her cousin in the bombing. "They intentionally killed people, who were trying to earn a crust," she sobbed as she walked behind the coffin.

The bodies were transferred from a mosque in the nearby town of Uludere after early morning prayers, and driven to Gulyazi in a long convoy of ambulances and cars, before being buried.

"I want to tell the chief of the general staff that my son is a martyr. He was just 13, and he did not have any kind of weapon," cried the father of 13-year-old Vedat Encu, as his son's body was interred.

There were similar outpourings of grief and anger in Uludere.

"Damn you, Erdogan ... One day you too will know our pain," shouted one group of protesters who had gathered in the town centre.
Turkey's military command said it carried out the air strike after a spy drone spotted a group moving toward its sensitive southeastern border under cover of darkness late Wednesday, in an area known to be used by militants.

The main pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) said the planes had bombed villagers from Kurdish majority southeastern Turkey who were smuggling sugar and fuel across the border on mules and donkeys.

While branding the bombing "a massacre of civilians", BDP leader Selahattin Demirtas called on the Kurdish population to respond "by democratic means."

The bombing sparked protests in other parts of Turkey, with a protest on Thursday called by the BDP drawing 2,000 people to Instabul's Taksim Square.

Afterwards, several hundred youths shouting pro-PKK slogans threw stones at riot police, who responded with water cannon and tear gas.

Police also clashed with protesters in Diyarbakir and Sirnak, two mainly Kurdish towns in the southeast, firing tear gas and water cannon in response to demonstrators who threw stones and petrol bombs, local security officials said.

Clashes between Kurdish rebels and the army have escalated in recent months.

The Turkish military launched an operation on militant bases inside northern Iraq in October after a PKK attack killed 24 soldiers in the border town of Cukurca, the army's biggest loss since 1993.

Since it was established in 1984, the PKK has been fighting the Turkish state, which still denies the constitutional existence of Kurds, to establish a Kurdish state in the south east of the country, sparking a conflict that has claimed some 45,000 lives.

But now its aim is the creation an autonomous Kurdish region and more cultural rights for ethnic Kurds who constitute the greatest minority in Turkey, numbering more than 20 million. A large Turkey's Kurdish community openly sympathise with the Kurdish PKK rebels.

PKK's demands included releasing PKK detainees, lifting the ban on education in Kurdish, paving the way for an autonomous democrat Kurdish system within Turkey, reducing pressure on the detained PKK leader Abdullah Öcalan, stopping military action against the Kurdish party and recomposing the Turkish constitution.

Turkey refuses to recognize its Kurdish population as a distinct minority. It has allowed some cultural rights such as limited broadcasts in the Kurdish language and private Kurdish language courses with the prodding of the European Union, but Kurdish politicians say the measures fall short of their expectations.

The PKK is considered as 'terrorist' organization by Ankara, U.S., the PKK continues to be on the blacklist list in EU despite court ruling which overturned a decision to place the Kurdish rebel group PKK and its political wing on the European Union's terror list. 

Copyright © 2011, respective author or news agency, AFP | | Agencies


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