Angry protesters have demonstrated against the government in the Turkish city of Istanbul, after 35 people were killed in a Kurdish-dominated village in the country’s southeast by an air strike the government says mistakenly hit smugglers rather than a group of separatist fighters.
Huseyin Celik, a spokesman for the ruling Justice and Development Party, said that those killed in the strike on Thursday “were not terrorists” and that officials are now investigating possible intelligence failures which led to the incident. He expressed regret for the deaths and suggested that the government could compensate the victims.
“If it turns out to have been a mistake, a blunder, rest assured that this will not be covered up,” he told reporters, adding that it could have been an “operational accident” by the Turkish military.
The air strike prompted a protest by more than 1,000 ethnic Kurds in Istanbul, which was broken by police using tear gas and water cannon. Several hundred of the protesters had thrown stones at the police and smashed vehicles during the demonstration in the city’s main Taksim square.
Ertugrul Kurkcu, a member of parliament for the pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) that called the protest, told Al Jazeera that the air strike was an “inhuman” and “unacceptable” act, and that it was “part of the government’s crackdown project on the Kurdish movement”.
The Turkish military confirmed that its warplanes launched the strikes after unmanned drones spotted a group of people crossing the border. The military says it launched the raids because it suspected those crossing over to be PKK fighters, based on earlier intelligence that the group was planning an offensive against Turkish military bases. According to a military statement, the strikes occurred in northern Iraq in an area “where there is no civilian population, and where the [PKK] has bases”.
The BPD party has called for two days of mourning to be observed for those killed in the incident.
Some sources are saying they were just cigarette smugglers.