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Several wounded after blast hits bus – Ankara slams ‘biased’ US indictment

Plainclothes police officers stand after an explosion hit a shuttle bus carrying prison guards in Izmir, Turkey, August 31, 2017. (Reuters)

ANKARA, Aug 31. (Agencies): Seven people were wounded when an explosion hit a shuttle bus carrying prison guards in the Turkish coastal province of Izmir on Thursday, and authorities were investigating a possible terrorist attack, the local mayor said. The bus was hit as it passed a garbage container at around 7:40 a.m. (0440 GMT), Levent Piristina, the mayor of Izmir’s Buca district, said on Twitter.

Photographs he posted on social media showed its windows blown out and its windscreen shattered. The force of the blast appeared to have blown out some of the bus’s panels, and the nearby street was littered with debris. “We are getting information from police sources and they are focusing on the possibility of a terrorist attack,” he said, adding that all seven wounded were in good condition. Both state-run TRT Haber and private broadcaster Dogan news agency said the explosion was caused by a bomb placed in the garbage container that exploded when the shuttle bus passed.

No one immediately claimed responsibility. Both Kurdish militants and jihadist Islamic State militants have carried out suicide and bomb attacks in major Turkish cities in recent years. Kurdish militants have previously targeted buses carrying security personnel. In December, a bomb killed at least 13 soldiers and wounded more than 50 when it ripped through a bus carrying off-duty military personnel in the central city of Kayseri, an attack the government blamed on Kurdish militants. The Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), considered a terrorist organisation by the United States, Turkey and the European Union, has waged a three-decade insurgency against the Turkish state.

The outlawed PKK wants autonomy for Turkey’s largely Kurdish southeast. Meanwhile, Turkey hit out Wednesday against a fresh indictment from the US Justice Department against Turkish security personnel accused of assaulting protesters during a Washington visit by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in May. A total of 19 people including Turkish security officials were identified from video footage of the May 16 clashes with Kurdish protesters outside the residence of Turkey’s ambassador, following a meeting between Erdogan and President Donald Trump.

Three more names were added to the case on Tuesday after US officials said videos showed Turkish guards beating and kicking protesters on the ground in the “Embassy Row” section of downtown Washington. The Turkish foreign ministry reacted angrily to the move in a statement late Wednesday. “We protest in the strongest terms that such an unjust and biased indictment, with names of people that have never been to the US, has been accepted,” the ministry said, adding that it had conveyed its reaction to the US ambassador to Ankara. Turkey “reserved the right to take action via legal means” against the charges, which the ministry said were “unfounded”. A total of 21 counts of assault and hate crimes based on the victims’ ethnicity were levelled against the group by Washington DC district attorney Channing Phillips.

All but two of the 19 “security personnel and supporters of Erdogan” remain at large. Two Turkish-American businessmen were arrested in June for their roles in the clash with protesters. Of the 17 others, two are Canadians, and the remaining are Turkish citizens. Relations between Ankara and Washington have been strained over the US arming Syrian Kurdish militia fighting against the Islamic State group in northern Syria. The clashes during Erdogan’s visit exacerbated tensions between the NATO allies, with the Turkish leader accusing US police of having allowed “terrorists” to protest “50 metres from me”.

The Turkish foreign ministry repeated Ankara’s criticisms of “serious negligence” by US security authorities who did not “secure our delegation’s safety”. It also reiterated its claims that the protesters were supporters of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which has been waging an insurgency in Turkey since 1984. Furthermore, a Turkish-born German writer facing extradition from Spain to Turkey, which accuses him of “terrorism”, on Wednesday urged Madrid not to send him to a country that is “slipping towards fascism”. Dogan Akhanli, who has lived in Germany since 1991, was arrested August 19 while on holiday in Granada in southern Spain, on the basis of an Interpol “red notice” from Turkey, in a case that has further strained German- Turkish relations.

Turkish authorities accuse the 60-year-old writer of “terrorism”, his lawyer Gonzalo Boye said. Berlin protested and a Madrid court freed Akhanli on August 20 but ordered him to stay in Spain and report to the authorities weekly, while Turkey has 40 days to send a formal extradition request. “How can they consider deporting me to Turkey, a country that is slipping towards fascism, when Spaniards themselves must have learned from history what this means for mankind,” he said at a Madrid news conference, referring to Franco dictatorship in Spain from 1939 to 1975.

Germany has dismissed the case against Akhanli as politically motivated, and Chancellor Angela Merkel warned President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s government not to “misuse” Interpol to pursue its critics. Akhanli said he believed Turkey ordered his arrest because “I express myself out loud, and because I write books about the Armenian genocide and the rights of the Kurds”, Turkey’s largest ethnic minority group. He has angered the Turkish government by writing about the World War I-era mass killings and deportation of up to 1.5 million Armenians under the Ottoman empire. Many historians and western nations, including Germany, consider the events a genocide — a term forcefully rejected by Turkey. Turkey acknowledges that largescale massacres took place but says that they were perpetrated in self-defence against what it calls a Russianinspired uprising by Armenians. Akhanli grew up in Istanbul, and was jailed from 1985 to 1987 in the aftermath of a military coup. He emigrated to Germany in 1991, where he was granted political asylum, and in 2001 he became a German citizen.

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