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Ankara bombings roil ‘unprecedented’ political tensions in Turkey

The bombings in Turkey on Saturday came as the country fights alongside the U.S. against ISIS militants in neighboring Syria and Iraq. Emre Peker, a reporter for The Wall Street Journal, joins Hari Sreenivasan via Skype from Istanbul to discuss the impacts of the attack.

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  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    Thousands of people gathered in the Turkish capital of Ankara today to condemn the worst terrorist attack in that nation's recent history.

    Families and friends of some victims gathered today to mourn. At least 95 people died when two bombs exploded at a rally by ethnic Kurds protesting the escalating violence between Turkish security forces and Kurdish separatists. Today, families also waited for news about the 160 people still being treated in hospitals. No one has claimed responsibility for the attack near Ankara's main rail station, but Turkish officials are pointing to the Islamic State, or ISIS.

    Some demonstrators blamed lax security by the government of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, which is waging a military campaign against Kurdish fighters in the southeast part of the country. Yesterday's bombings came as Turkey is also partnering with the U.S. campaign against ISIS militants in neighboring Syria and Iraq.

    Turkish president Erdogan said today national parliamentary elections in three weeks will not be postponed.

    Joining me now via Skype from Istanbul, Turkey, to discuss the impact of the bombings is Wall Street Journal reporter Emre Peker.

    Emre, you have lived there for several years. You have been working for The Journal for a few years there. How bad are these tensions now?

  • EMRE PEKER, The Wall Street Journal:

    Hari, thanks for having me on the show.

    It's — it's pretty bad. This is kind of unprecedented and unchartered territory that we're in. We're in the lead-up to snap elections. We had elections in June that produced Turkey's first hung Parliament since 2002, and violence has been escalating ever since then.

    Both domestic threats with Kurdish insurgents and foreign threats stemming from Islamic State and the instability in Iraq and Syria have been sort of bedeviling Turkey. And that, just in the midst of all of this, when some 14,000 people were gathering for a peace march, that we have, you know, been hit by the deadliest terrorist attack in the nation's modern history is quite devastating.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    Well, what is the sentiment like on the street when you go to get groceries yesterday? Or, I mean, what are people feeling like in the wake of this attack, especially since some of that explosion was televised?

  • EMRE PEKER:

    It kind of depends on where you are going and who you are talking with. The country has been going through a very polarizing period recently. And that's been sort of playing out in the aftermath of yesterday's bombing attack as well.

    Some people you talk with adamantly blame the government and President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's political ambitions for the blast, accusing the government of war-mongering for political gains, whereas supporters of the government and President Erdogan blame Kurdish militants, a pro-Kurdish political party that they say is supporting terrorism, and say that foreign forces and leftist militants and so forth are trying to destabilize the country to undermine a decade of progress that Turkey has lived through under mostly President Erdogan's rule.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    Has this strengthened the president's resolve to try and justify the bombing campaigns against the PKK, or softened it any?

  • EMRE PEKER:

    We haven't heard much on that.

    The PKK yesterday declared a unilateral cease-fire, saying that they want to safeguard free and fair elections. There has been increased security measures taken in the majority Kurdish southeast, which I guess both the PKK and the pro-Kurdish HDP were afraid would hamper voters' access to the ballots.

    So, in order to unwind some of the security measures, the PKK declared a unilateral cease-fire. But, on the same day, also, a PKK road bombing killed a police officer. And the military has responded to these operations by launching widespread raids and also airstrikes against PKK camps in Northern Iraq on Sunday, claiming to have killed dozens of PKK militants.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    All right, Emre Peker of The Wall Street Journal joining us via Skype Istanbul, thanks so much.

  • EMRE PEKER:

    Thank you.

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