ANKARA, Turkey: Hundreds of people marched through Istanbul and the Turkish capital of Ankara on Monday to condemn the slaughter by suicide bombers at a weekend peace rally, with many venting their anger at the Turkish government itself.
Some demonstrators chanted: “The killer state will be held to account!”
Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, however, rejected accusations by opponents that the government was to blame for the nearly simultaneous attacks Saturday, calling them “dangerous” and “dastardly.”
He also denied that they were a result of Turkey’s involvement in war in Syria and that the government was dragging the country into the Middle Eastern quagmire. The government believes two male suicide bombers killed at least 97 people and wounded hundreds at a rally Saturday in Ankara by opposition supporters and Kurdish activists.
“These attacks won’t turn Turkey into a Syria,” Davutoglu said.
Government opponents have also accused President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of fomenting violence and ethnic tensions to gain votes for the ruling party in Turkey’s Nov. 1 election — an accusation that the Turkish leader rejects. In the last election in June, a Kurdish party gained support from voters, taking away the ruling party’s majority in Parliament — and Erdogan wants that majority back.
Turkish investigators were close to identifying one of the two suicide bombers, the prime minister said Monday, adding that the Islamic State group was the “No. 1 priority” of its investigation.
The rally Saturday was organized by Turkish and Kurdish activists to call for increased democracy and an end to the renewed fighting between Turkey’s security forces and Kurdish rebels that has killed hundreds of soldiers, rebels and citizens since July.
On Monday, Yeni Safak, a newspaper close to the government, said authorities investigating the bombings were focusing on the Islamic State group, comparing DNA samples of the suspected bombers with those obtained from the families of some 20 extremists they suspect could have carried out the attacks.
No one has claimed responsibility, but the attack bears similarities to a suicide bombing in July that killed 33 Turkish and Kurdish peace activists near the southern town of Suruc, which borders Syria. The government blamed that attack on the Islamic State group.
Hurriyet newspaper said the type of device and explosives used in Ankara were the same as those used in Suruc.
The government raised the death toll in the weekend attack to 97, including one Palestinian. A pro-Kurdish party says up to 128 people have died. Doctors say dozens are in serious condition, many with burns.
Several labor unions embarked on a two-day strike starting Monday to denounce the attacks. Across the country, funerals were also held for some of Saturday’s victims.
Davutoglu said Turkey had received intelligence that Kurdish rebels or Islamic State militants were planning suicide bombings and said two would-be bombers were detained before Saturday’s attack.
“There was general intelligence that Daesh (IS) especially, and certain teams of the PKK in northern Iraq, teams calling themselves the ‘immortals,’ were being prepared,” Davutoglu said.
He said the attack Saturday aimed to influence the result of Turkey’s Nov. 1 election and cast a shadow over the polls.
Police detained nine more suspected Islamic State militants in raids in the southern cities of Adana and Kilis, officials said Monday. The detentions raised to 45 the number of suspected IS militants taken into custody in four cities since Saturday. It was not clear if any of the arrests were linked to the peace rally bombings.
Turkey agreed recently to more actively support the U.S.-led battle against the Islamic State group, opening its bases to U.S. aircraft launching air strikes on the extremist group in Syria and carrying out a limited number of strikes on the group itself.
Analysts say Islamic State stands to benefit the most from the continued Turkish-Kurdish conflict, which would take Turkish pressure off the extremist group in Syria.
IS also has no love lost for Kurdish forces, since it has fought Syrian Kurdish forces who are allied with Turkey’s Kurdish rebels in northern Syria — including over the town of Kobani, which was recaptured from IS by Kurdish forces last year.