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9 Turkish soldiers killed by bomb; Kurdish rebels claim responsibility

In what could herald the start of a fierce new season of fighting between government troops and Kurdish insurgents, a roadside bombing Wednesday in southeast Turkey killed nine soldiers.

The attack, aimed at a convoy traveling a mountainous road, caused the largest single-incident death toll this year for the Turkish military, which has waged a decades-long struggle with fighters of the Kurdistan Workers Party, or PKK.

The rebels claimed responsibility for the blast, which took place near the town of Lice in Diyarbakir province. Officials described the device as crude but powerful, strong enough to penetrate a tank and an armored vehicle traveling in the convoy.

A 10th Turkish soldier was killed in fighting elsewhere in the mainly Kurdish southeast, the state-run Anatolian news agency said.

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Violence escalated elsewhere in the country as well. A young woman apparently posing as a student was injured in a blast that authorities described as an attempted suicide attack against a former justice minister. The ex-minister, Hikmet Sami Turk, was giving a lecture at a university in Ankara, the capital, and the female assailant mingled with the audience, authorities said.

She was overpowered by bodyguards after setting off a small initial blast, in which she was the only one hurt, but was carrying a larger load of explosives, officials said. An alleged accomplice was also detained.

No immediate claim of responsibility was made for the attack against the former minister, but leftist groups traditionally stage sometimes-violent protests around May 1, the international workers holiday. Police were also investigating the possibility that the bombing was carried out by the PKK.

The army chief of staff, Gen. Ilker Basbug, said at a news conference in the capital that Turkish security forces would continue to pursue the insurgents, many of whom are thought to operate from bases across the border in northern Iraq. He urged the Kurdish rebels to lay down their arms and rejoin society.

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Authorities have been cracking down hard recently against Kurdish political figures suspected of having links to the PKK. A series of police raids this month resulted in dozens of arrests, which in turn triggered large street protests in the southeast.

“It is not possible for us to be in the same environment [with Kurdish politicians] until they clarify their stance about this terrorist organization,” Basbug said, referring to the PKK.

Even while moving against the insurgents, however, the Islamist-led central government is expected to make overtures to the country’s Kurdish minority after a poor showing in the southeast in municipal elections last month, including the granting of greater cultural freedoms, which have been long restricted.

Kurds still face serious discrimination in Turkish society, which has posed an obstacle to the country’s already faltering bid for European Union membership.

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laura.king@latimes.com


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