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Deadly blasts rock Kurdish party rally just ahead of Turkish election

Ilyas Akengin, AFP | Authorities have ruled out the theory that the explosions were caused by a faulty power transformer

Two blasts ripped through a Kurdish rally in southeastern Turkey on Friday, killing two people and injuring more than 100 just two days before a general election. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan called the explosions a “provocation”.

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The blasts occurred five minutes apart at the rally of the pro-Kurdish People’s Democratic Party, or HDP, as party leader Selahattin Demirtas was preparing to address the crowd of tens of thousands in Diyarbakir, the main city in Turkey’s predominantly Kurdish southeast.

Officials initially blamed a faulty power transformer for the incident but later ruled that possibility out, with Energy Minister Taner Yildiz saying the blasts were caused by an “external interference” with the power unit. He did not say whether he believed a bomb was involved, however.

In a written statement, President Erdogan called the explosions a “provocation” aimed at disrupting the peace ahead of Sunday’s general election. He also said state authorities were conducting a careful investigation into the incident.

Tensions have run high as the HDP campaigns to become the first party with Kurdish origins to win parliamentary seats. Previously, Kurdish MPs have joined the legislature as independents.

The HDP needs to overcome a 10-percent 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 it was swept to power in 2002.

HDP Chairman Selahattin Demirtas called on his supporters to remain calm. “We don’t know the cause of the blast,” he said in a live interview with CNN Turk, adding that the injuries included the loss of limbs.

“It is thought-provoking that this occurred so close to the election,” he said.

Police fire water cannon

Witnesses said they had heard two blasts at the rally site and that the first one came from a garbage container. It was not possible to immediately verify this information.

Television footage showed people carrying the injured on stretchers as organisers of the rally for the pro-Kurdish HDP used loudspeakers to urge people to stay calm.

The rally was cancelled but a large group of youths remained at the site, protesting the explosions. Some threw stones at a police water cannon that moved in to disperse the crowd.

Security has been tight at HDP political rallies. On Thursday, nationalists clashed with HDP supporters at a Demirtas rally in the northern town of Erzurum.

Demirtas said his party has been the target of more than 70 violent attacks during the campaign.

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.

(FRANCE 24 with AP, REUTERS)

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