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Bomb attacks threaten Turkey tourism: Police suspect Kurds as series of blasts injures 23 people in Mediterranean resort

TURKEY'S tourist industry suffered a blow yesterday when a series of bomb attacks injured 23 people, including 12 foreign tourists.

No Britons were reported hurt in the four attacks in Antalya, an attractive Mediterranean port on Turkey's south coast. Eight of those who were wounded were Germans, mostly evening diners at the small Leta hotel and nearby restaurants.

No group said it was responsible for the Antalya attacks, but Turkey's Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) rebels did not deny involvement. Following the collapse of a two-month unilateral ceasefire in May, they had warned of 'all-out war', including attacks on tourism and economic targets. The Kurds also shocked Europe with co-ordinated attacks on Turkish targets in six countries last Thursday.

Smaller bombs also exploded at a bank in Antalya, and in the car park of the Sheraton-Voyager Hotel.

The Foreign Office called for special vigilance, but continued 'not to advise against travel to Turkey'. But it has long warned against travel to the distant Kurdish south-east, where a separatist Kurdish insurgency has been in progress for nine years, killing 6,200 people.

'Our programme is operating as normal; we follow the Foreign Office advice,' said Julie Angove, a spokeswoman for Thomson Holidays, one of the main British tour operators to Turkey. The group expects to take 80,000 British tourists to Turkey this year, up from 50,000 in 1992.

Militant Turkish Kurds have been condemned by Iraqi Kurds, fearing they will be tarred by the same terrorist brush. 'The Kurdish movement in general has adhered to honourable means of struggle,' said a joint statement by the Iraqi Kurdish leaders Masoud Barzani and Jalal Talabani.

Poised for a strong recovery this year from the blow delivered by the Gulf war, tourism income will be vital to close Turkey's widening trade gap.

Everyone prays that the Antalya bombings will not be repeated but with no change of Turkish or rebel policies in sight, more attacks will be no surprise.

Kurdish communities have sprung up all along the tourist coast. Some comprise rich families escaping the south-eastern troubles, but most Kurds work as poor builders remitting money to village families sympathetic to the separatist rebels.

The pleasant resort city of Antalya had returned to a superficial normality yesterday, but Turkish-Kurdish tension has been growing in recent months. Local reporters said police were once again scouring Kurdish neighbourhoods, arresting scores of people for interrogation.

It is still much safer to eat dinner in Antalya than to drive on Turkish roads - on which between 10 and 20 people are killed each day - but local tourism operators said they were bracing for the worst as news filtered through.

'Hotels are putting on more animations to keep people happy,' said Yasar Sabutay, owner of Antalya's Pamfilya tour company. 'But what happened is reality. There are no cancellations yet, but I expect new bookings will be slow. Later on, we don't know.'

(Photograph omitted)