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86 Killed in Bomb Blasts at Pro-Kurdish Rally in Ankara

By Jamie Dettmer, VOA

GAZIANTEP, TURKEY - Twin blasts shook Ankara’s main train station Saturday morning just hours before a pro-Kurdish peace rally, claiming the lives of at least 86 people and wounding nearly 200.

Ankara explosion:
Horrifying moment suspected terrorist blast goes off as peace campaigners dance

The explosions occurred near the main exit of the railway station in the Ulus district of Turkey's capital, presumably to cause a high death toll among likely participants at the rally, which was being organized by labor and civil society groups.

Officials fear the death toll could rise.

There was chaos and confusion at the scene of the bombings with emergency workers, survivors and police mingled together trying to get some order.

Bodies of victims are covered with flags and banners after the explosion
(source: Islamic Republic News Agency; see more photos)

Bodies lay on the ground and the yellow flags of the HDP and clothes were scattered around. Analysts suspect either the Islamic State militant group or Turkish nationalists opposed to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) were behind the attack.

Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan "condemned this heinous attack on our unity and our country's peace." He announced he is canceling the next three days of appointments to focus on the security challenge to Turkey.

Security officials say it is unclear whether the blasts were detonated by suicide bombers.

Turkish officials said the blasts were a "terrorist attack.” No group has claimed responsibility.

The target appears to have been the march calling for an end to the violence with the Kurdish separatist group Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).

The leader of the pro-Kurdish People’s Democratic Party (HDP), Selahattin Demirtaş, told reporters the death toll would likely be heavy. He compared the attack to two bombings earlier this year that struck in the mainly Kurdish towns of Diyarbakır and Suruc in southeast Turkey.

'A huge massacre'

“We are witnessing a huge massacre. An atrocious and barbarian attack was carried out,” Demirtaş said.

Organizers announced the cancelation of the planned peace rally.

Islamic State extremists said they were responsible for the explosion in Suruc in July, which killed 33 people and wounded 104. It triggered clashes between Turkish forces and IS militants, with Turkish soldiers and jihadists engaging in cross-border exchanges of gunfire and shelling near the Turkish border town of Kilis.

The PKK announced after the bombings that it was ordering its fighters to curb militants activities in Turkey and only respond when they come under attack from Turkish forces.

The Firat news agency reported the head of the PKK umbrella group said the decision was in response to calls from within and outside Turkey, and that the group should avoid acts that could disrupt parliamentary elections on November 1 and prevent a "fair and just" vote from being held.

The Turkish government had also used the Suruc bombing to justify launching airstrikes against Kurdish militant positions in northern Iraq and Syria, arguing it needed to combat all terrorist groups, Kurdish and Islamic. The airstrikes ended a four-year-long peace process between the PKK and Ankara.

HDP party activists Tweeted that there were "numerous dead and injured.” They also accused the police of attacking people trying to carry the wounded away. But a spokesman said the police were trying to empty the scene quickly to avoid more casualties in any subsequent explosions.

Upcoming elections

Coming just weeks away from next month’s parliamentary elections, Saturday’s bombings will likely add to a sense of foreboding across a country fearful of more spillover from the war raging in neighboring Syria and the clashes in southeast Turkey between Turkish forces and PKK militants.

Saturday’s blasts were several minutes apart; the first went off at 10:00 a.m., the local Dogan news agency reported. A video posted on social media captured one explosion that enveloped young marchers dancing and waving banners. Other video footage showed bodies lying on the ground and survivors trying to help the wounded.

Dorian Jones also contributed to this story from Istanbul.

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