PKK suspected over Istanbul suicide bomb as ceasefire runs out

A suspected suicide bomber blew himself up next to a police vehicle in Istanbul's busy Taksim Square yesterday, injuring at least 32 people, 15 of them police officers.

Both radical Islamist groups and Kurdish resistance fighters have mounted terror attacks in Turkey's biggest city in recent years but no group claimed responsibility for the blast.

The attack happened mid-morning in downtown Istanbul, just yards away from restaurants and cafes normally thronging with tourists, as the city prepared for its annual Republic Day festivities, postponed by a day because of rain.

"It was a terrifying, very loud explosion," Mehmet Toz, a coffee-stall owner, told the Associated Press. "Everyone started to run around, people fell on the ground. There was panic."

Police officials said the suspected bomber unsuccessfully attempted to board a parked police van before detonating the bomb outside of the vehicle. Officers also found a package of plastic explosives at the scene, but it was not clear if it was part of the same device. The bomber was killed in the explosion, but none of the injured was in danger, said police chief Husein Capkin.

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyib Erdogan condemned the attack from the town of Mardin in the predominantly Kurdish southeast. "Those who threaten Turkey's peace, security and development will not be tolerated," he said in a televised speech.

"These kinds of attacks will not stop Turkey reaching its goals of peace, brotherhood and development. We are together, we are brothers."

In recent years, Istanbul has experienced a number of deadly terror attacks. In late 2003, al-Qa'ida suicide bombers killed 62 in a wave of bombings, while Kurdish militants have also conducted attacks in the city.

Official suspicion for the attack appeared to fall on the Kurdish Workers' Party, or PKK, a Kurdish guerrilla resistance group based in the mountains of northern Iraq.

The PKK's unilateral ceasefire was due to expire yesterday. The group's de facto leader, Murat Karayilan, warned in an interview with The Independent at his mountain hideout that the group would not extend the ceasefire if the Turkish government continued military operations against it.

The group, which is fighting for cultural and democratic freedoms for Turkey's Kurds, has repeatedly renewed a ceasefire aimed at paving the way for peaceful negotiations with the Turkish government to end the 26-year armed conflict. But frustration has grown since the ruling Justice and Development party failed to make good on any of its promised reforms for the Kurds, fearing that it would be seen as soft on Kurdish rebels ahead of next year's elections.

In June, the Kurdistan Freedom Falcons blew up a military bus in Istanbul, killing five people. The Turkish government says that the group is a front for the PKK, while the PKK has insisted that it has no control over it.

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