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11 Dec 16

Turkey Ponders Aftermath of Blasts that Killed 38

Turkish experts and citizens are pondering the security and political implications of the latest terror attacks that killed 38 in Istanbul for which Kurdish militants have claimed responsibility.

BIEN Team Ankara, Istanbul
Carnations and roses are laid on a police car outside the Besiktas football club stadium Vodafone Arena in Istanbul on Sunday. Photo: Beta/AP Photo/Emrah Gurel.

A Turkish security expert, speaking on condition of anonymity, told BIRN that Saturday’s twin blasts at a football stadium in Istanbul, killing at least 38 people, did not come as a surprise.

In a context of heightened security, political and ethnic tensions in recent months, terrorism may seem as the only option for groups that feel threatened by government oppression, he said.

“Terror seems the only solution for some small groups because of the lack of political communication and dialogue,” he told BIRN.

“The only way to solve the terror issue in Turkey is by providing political representation to all groups in parliament and having a functioning democracy. Ending the wars in Syria and Iraq is of the utmost importance as well,” he added.

The two bombs, a car packed with 300kg of explosives and a suicide bomb came in quick succession and struck at about 10.30pm in the city’s Besiktas neighbourhood.

Some officials have blamed Kurdish militants for the attacks. In a statement on its website, the Kurdistan Freedom Falcons, or TAK, said two of its members had sacrificed their lives in the  attacks. The TAK is seen as linked to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party, PKK.

Experts said it was telling that the attack came only one day after the ruling AKP party proposed a plan to parliament to hold a referendum by next May.

The referendum would ask the country to constitutional changes that would further expand the powers of the President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Presidential and parliamentary polls would then be held together in 2019.

The constitutional change would need the support of at least 330 out of 550 deputies in parliament. It is expected to pass since Erdogan’s AKP has 316 seats in parliament while the nationalist opposition MHP party is also expected to support it with its 39 MPs.

This plan, as well as the ongoing clampdown against the opposition, in which hundreds of thousands of people have been suspended, fired, or arrested since a failed summer coup, has added to tensions in Turkey, which experts say could motivate terrorist attacks.

The attack on Saturday apparently targeted police officers since the two bombs detonated two hours after most spectators had left the sports stadium.

Thirty of the fatalities were police officials, seven were civilians and one was an unknown person. The death toll is expected to rise as many of the injured remain in a critical condition.

Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu said on Sunday that at least 10 people had been arrested in connection with the attacks.

A lawyer who works and lives in the Besiktas neighbourhood of Istanbul told BIRN that locals heard an ear-splitting explosion and saw smoke.

“The attacks followed a match at the Besiktas Football Club. The stadium was full of tens of thousands of fans and thousands of policemen were there to ensure their safety. Had the bombs exploded only an hour before, the death toll would have been much higher,” he said.

Ordinary people as well as experts complained to BIRN that after the explosion, the government restricted all news coverage about the attack, depriving the population of information about the scale of the attack and its casualties.

"Because of this, people did not understand how serious the incident was until thousands of police officers and tens of ambulances arrived in the neighbourhood,” the man from Besiktas neighbourhood told BIRN.

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