Leftist killings raise fears of fresh violence in Turkey

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Left-wing guerrillas murdered a leading businessman and two other people yesterday, raising the spectre of 1970s Turkish political violence to match a 1970s-style political deadlock, as Necmettin Erbakan began trying to form a government.

Apparently in revenge for the police killing of three guerrillas in jail riots last week, one or two attackers entered the blue twin towers of Istanbul's Sabanci Centre yesterday morning and reached the executive 25th floor. There, Ozdemir Sabanci, a member of one of Turkey's richest and most powerful families, was meeting Haluk Gorgun, manager of the country's new Toyota car plant, a Sabanci joint venture.

Mr Sabanci, Mr Gorgun, and Nilgun Hasefe, personal assistant to Sakip Sabanci, the dynasty's leading figure and Ozdemir Sabanci's brother, were all killed, each shot once in the head.

Istanbul's police chief, Orhan Tasanlar, said he believed there were two attackers and that one had been filmed by indoor security cameras. How the intruders eluded the elaborate security technology to reach the executive floor was not immediately known.

Responsibility for the killings was claimed by the Revolutionary People's Liberation Party-Front (DHKP-C), an offshoot of Dev Sol, whose roots go back to the political violence of the 1970s. DHKP-C emerged in 1995 as the most dangerous left-wing group in Turkey, staging 178 violent incidents, including random street attacks in which several Istanbul policemen, as well as a grocer deemed an "informer", were killed.

A statement from the group said the Sabanci Centre killings were to avenge the "murder of revolutionary people's fighters". This apparently referred to the death of three prisoners in Istanbul's Umraniye jail last week.

The killings sparked five days of riots that spread to 10 prisons, until the government fulfilled an inmates' demand and suspended two senior officials at the Umraniye jail. The prisoners then released the last of 30 officials whom they had taken hostage.

Left-wing passions are still running high as a result of the police actions, including the forced burial of one of the dead prisoners by policemen after relatives refused to take part in the funeral. Hundreds of would- be mourners and demonstrators were rounded up by police and kicked and punched as they were herded into a nearby sports stadium.

Metin Goktepe, a reporter for the left-wing newspaper Evrensel, was taken into custody by police and not seen again until he was found dead by a park bench yesterday. Fellow journalists accused the police of killing him.

Political murders and confrontations with police were the hallmarks of political violence in the 1970s that killed up to 20 people a day. The violence was fuelled by unstable coalitions and governments that risk being repeated after the pro-Islamic Welfare Party came first in elections on 24 December.

President Suleyman Demirel yesterday gave Mr Erbakan, the Welfare leader, the first chance to form a government from the weak and divided parliament. Mr Erbakan has vowed to revise Turkey's customs union with Europe, expel an allied force protecting the Kurds of northern Iraq and take Turkey into a Muslim commonwealth. But he has no obvious coalition partner.

The nationalist daily Hurriyet, blamed Mr Erbakan's success on the feud between the two leaders of the centre right, Mesut Yilmaz and Tansu Ciller, who remains acting prime minister. Mr Erbakan is calculating that pro-Islamic elements in Mr Yilmaz's 132-seat Motherland Party will join with his 158 seats to make a majority in the 550-seat assembly.

The left-wing commentator Ahmet Altan thought the rise in violence signalled a deep malaise. "A beaten army and a collapsing regime are always dangerous for people ... and in Turkey the regime is breaking down," he said.