DIYARBAKIR –– Two blasts ripped through a Kurdish rally in Turkey today, killing two people and injuring more than 100 two days before a general election, and the prime minister said it was unclear if the explosions were accidental or an attack.
The explosions occurred as tens of thousands of people gathered for the pro-Kurdish People’s Democratic Party (HDP) election rally in Diyarbakir, the largest city in mainly Kurdish south-east Turkey.
Initial reports said there had been one explosion but a senior security source told Reuters there were two blasts. Officials initially blamed a faulty power transformer at the rally site but later ruled that possibility out.
Eyewitness Guy Martin, a British photographer, told Reuters the blasts occurred some five minutes apart –– the first in a rubbish bin which was ripped apart and the second in front a power generator. In the aftermath he saw one person who had lost a leg and others with shrapnel wounds.
“It was a heart-shaking, ribcage-shaking noise,” he said of one of the blasts. “The most terrifying thing is that crush of people. It was chaos, I couldn’t move, people were panicking.
“The police started firing teargas at people who were helping the injured or fleeing the scene this enflamed the situation,” he added. “The mood is angry. People want revenge.”
The explosions killed two people and injured more than 100, Minister of Agriculture Mehdi Eker was quoted as saying by state-run Anadolu news agency. City hospitals made an urgent appeal for blood donations.
Tensions have run high as the HDP campaigns to become the first party with Kurdish origins to win seats in parliament in Sunday’s election. Previously, Kurdish MPs have joined the legislature as independents.
The HDP needs to overcome a ten per cent vote threshold, and some opinion polls show it could seize enough seats to deprive the long-ruling AK Party of the majority it has enjoyed since sweeping to power in 2002.
“It is not yet clear whether this was an attack or an accident. Whatever caused it, we will find out,” said Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu.
He was addressing supporters at a rally in the city of Gaziantep.
HDP chairman Selahattin Demirtas called on his supporters to remain calm.
“We don’t know the cause of the blast,” he told CNN Turk. “It is thought-provoking that this occurred so close to the election,” he added.
Television footage showed people carrying the injured on stretchers as organisers of the rally for the pro-Kurdish HDP announced on loudspeakers that the explosion had been caused by a fault in a power generator and urged people to stay calm.
The explosion rocked the parade ground just before Demirtas was to address the crowd. Police fired water cannon to disperse protesters who remained at the parade ground. The rally was subsequently cancelled.
Security has been tight at HDP political rallies. Yesterday nationalists clashed with HDP supporters at a Demirtas rally in the northern town of Erzurum.
Demirtas has said his party has been the target of more than 70 violent attacks during the campaign.
President Tayyip Erdogan, who used to head the AK Party, has accused the HDP of being a front for the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which took up arms in 1984 in an insurgency that killed 40,000 people.
Jailed PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan and Ankara launched peace talks more than two years ago.