At least 27 dead and 75 wounded in Ankara car bombing

Blast hit crowded Kizilay square, a key commercial and transport hub close to a courthouse, interior and justice ministries and the Turkish capital's embassy area.

Police examine the site of a car bombing near Ankara’s Kizilay square, a key shopping and transport hub close to the city’s embassy area, on March 13, 2016. Adem Altan / AFP
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Ankara // The death toll from a suicide car bombing at a bus stop in central Ankara on Sunday has risen to 34, with 125 wounded, Turkey’s health minister Mehmet Muezzinoglu said.

“Thirty people were killed on the spot and four others died in hospital,” Muezzinoglu said after a meeting of ministers and security officials in the wake of the blast.

A car bomb ripped through a busy square in central Ankara on Sunday, in the latest of a spate of attacks to hit Turkey.

The blast at Kizilay square, a key commercial and transport hub close to close to a courthouse, the justice and interior ministries and the city’s embassy area, was crowded when the explosion happened at 6.43pm, state broadcaster TRT said.

The wounded were taken to 10 different hospitals around the city, with a dozen said to be in a very serious condition.

Security officials said gunfire was heard after the blast and initial findings suggest the involvement of the oulawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) or an affiliated group. There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the attack.

The explosion could be heard 2.5km away and a large cloud of smoke could be seen rising over the city centre. Several vehicles including a bus were reduced to burnt-out wrecks. Video footage showed burning debris showering down on what appeared to be the entrance to an underpass.

“The blast was caused by a vehicle packed with explosives close to Kizilay square,” the Ankara governor’s office said.

The attack comes just weeks after the Turkish capital was hit by a suicide car bombing targeting the military that killed 29 people. That bombing on February 17 was claimed by a dissident faction of the PKK.

Turkey has been hit by a spate of deadly attacks since the middle of last year, most of them blamed on ISIL, including a double suicide bombing in Ankara in October that left 103 people dead.

Coming so soon after the February bombing, Sunday’s attack will raise fresh questions about Turkey’s ability to manage the twin security threat posed by ISIL and Kurdish rebels, as Ankara presses the European Union to speed up its membership process in return for help with the migrant crisis.

The Kurdistan Freedom Falcons (TAK), linked to the PKK, said it carried out the February bombing in Ankara as revenge for operations by the Turkish military in the south-east of the country and warned foreign tourists not to visit the country.

A two-year ceasefire between the government and Kurdish rebels collapsed in the middle of last year and since December security forces have been waging a major campaign against the PKK in the south-east of the country.

Strict 24-hour curfews were imposed in a number of Kurdish-dominated towns and cities to allow the military and police to pursue fighters who had dug trenches and put up barricades.

Sunday’s attack came hours before curfews were due to take effect in two more towns in the south-east as a prelude to fresh military operations.

Authorities said restrictions would be slapped on Yuksekova, near the Iranian border, and Nusaybin, on the frontier with Syria, to “restore order and security” following an increase in “terrorist activity”.

Ankara has vowed to wipe out the PKK, classed as a terrorist organisation by Turkey and its western allies, and has said “clean-up” operations in Yuksekova, Nusaybin and Sirnak, a third Kurdish city, are imminent.

As the new restrictions were announced, Turkey eased the curfew in part of Diyarbakir, the biggest Kurdish-majority city, which has been under lockdown since December.

From 8am yesterday, residents were allowed back on to the streets in part of the city’s historic Sur district, where some buildings have been badly damaged in security operations.

Residents forced from the area by the clashes and the curfews returned to inspect their damaged homes, carrying their belongings in suitcases and pushcarts.

Other parts of Sur, a Unesco world heritage site, remain under curfew to allow the authorities to capture terrorists and clear explosives and booby traps, said the local governor.

The police and army launched an operation in the narrow streets of Sur in early December to retake control of areas seized by armed PKK activists, who dug trenches and put up barricades.

Critics say the clashes caused major damage and forced nearly 50,000 people from their homes since the start of December. Up to 70,000 people were living in the area before the violence erupted.

The Turkish army high command said this week its operation in Sur had killed 279 members of “the separatist terrorist organisation”, the PKK, but gave no toll for security forces. Local media have put the figure in the dozens.

The pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) says dozens of civilians have also been killed.

* Agence France-Presse with additional reporting from Reuters