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Dozens killed in twin blasts at peace rally in Turkish capital

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Two suicide bombers are suspected of having carried out the twin explosions that killed at least 86 people and wounded hundreds in Turkey’s capital Ankara on Saturday, the prime minister said.

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Nearly 200 people were also wounded in the blasts which went off just outside Ankara’s main train station shortly after 10am local time as thousands gathered for a peace rally.

Footage from the scene showed over a dozen bodies lying in the streets, covered by flags and banners, including those of the pro-Kurdish opposition Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), with bloodstains and body parts scattered on the road.

Those involved in the peace march tended to the wounded, as hundreds of stunned people wandered the streets of the capital city.

There were no immediate claims of responsibility for the attack, but Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu told a news conference that there were “strong signals” that two suicide bombers were behind the deadly blasts.

Calls for "solidarity"

In a written statement from his office, President Tayyip Erdogan strongly condemned the “heinous attack on our unity and our country's peace," and called for “solidarity and determination as the most meaningful response to terror”.

He added that those behind the attack aimed to sow division in Turkish society.
Later Saturday, Turkey declared three days of national mourning.

Reporting from the scene, FRANCE 24’s Jasper Mortimer said the two explosions appeared to have happened just seconds apart as activists gathered for a planned peace march to protest against the conflict between Turkish security forces and Kurdish militants in the southeast.

“The road beneath me is smeared with blood,” he said, adding that the people had hurled rocks and sticks at a police van as it drove through the debris.

“They clearly blame the police for the lack of security.”

There were also reports of police firing into the air to disperse angry protesters from the blast sites.

Escalating violence

Violence between the state and the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) militants has flared since July, when Turkey launched air strikes on militant camps in response to what it said were rising attacks on the security forces.

The attacks come three weeks ahead of parliamentary elections in Turkey and at a time of multiple security threats, not only in the restive southeast but also from Islamic State militants in neighbouring Syria and home-grown leftist militants.

The NATO member has been in a heightened state of alert since starting a “synchronized war on terror” in July, including air strikes against Islamic State fighters in Syria and PKK bases in northern Iraq. It has also rounded up hundreds of suspected militants at home.

Designated a terrorist group by Turkey, the United States and the European Union, the PKK launched a separatist insurgency in 1984 in which more than 40,000 people have been killed.

The state launched peace talks with the PKK’s jailed leader in 2012 and the latest in a series of ceasefires had been holding until the violence flared again in July.

Later Saturday, Turkey’s government announced a news blackout of images showing the moment of the blast, gruesome or bloody images or "images that create a feeling of panic."

Turkey frequently imposes blackouts following attacks.

Many people in Ankara also reported being unable to access Twitter and other social media websites, but it was not clear if authorities had blocked access to the websites.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP, REUTERS)

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