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Anger Mixes With Sadness Across Turkey

The premier calls for unity at one bombing victim's funeral, while peace protesters direct their resentment at both Bush and Al Qaeda.

November 23, 2003|Tracy Wilkinson | Times Staff Writer

ISTANBUL, Turkey — Saturday was a day of more funerals, peace marches across Turkey to protest the week's suicide bombings, and surging anger -- some of it directed at the United States.

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, speaking at a funeral under sunny skies that belied the sorrow felt by those gathered, said the killers of more than 50 people in four attacks in Istanbul were Turkish citizens "with links abroad."

He thus confirmed what had been widely reported earlier in the week, and he appealed for unity and perseverance.

"Bombs will not silence our freedom," he said. "The price of this freedom has been paid many times and this will continue. If we do not pay the price, it is impossible to achieve the life we desire."

Erdogan watched the burial of two police officers slain while guarding the bombed British Consulate, their photographs pinned to his lapel. Then he attended the funeral of an actor killed as he sat in his car at a stoplight outside the HSBC bank that also blew up.

At least three groups purportedly linked to the Al Qaeda terrorist network have claimed responsibility for nearly simultaneous attacks on two synagogues Nov. 15 that left 23 people and the two bombers dead, and the blasts Thursday at the consulate and the British-based bank's high-rise headquarters. Thirty people were killed in Thursday's attacks, plus the two bombers, and about 500 were injured.

The city remained on edge Saturday, though shoppers thronged the narrow, cobblestone streets of central Istanbul and the sounds of hammers and drills hinted at repair work in progress. All of Istanbul's synagogues remained closed, Shabbat services canceled, and police maintained high-alert guard at places of worship, malls and other potential targets.

Most of Turkey is shutting down for the nine-day holiday that marks the end of Ramadan, a month of fasting. It is a national holiday here.

Several thousand Turks waving national flags gathered Saturday morning in an Istanbul plaza near the crippled consulate, as well as in the capital, Ankara, and other cities in the country, to protest the killings. Some in the crowd blamed the United States, for whom Turkey has served as a strategic ally.

A placard with images of President Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair declared, "We know who the murderers are." Along with a minute of silence observed in honor of the dead, some protesters also chanted slogans against Bush and Israel, another ally of Turkey.

"Our message is we are against every kind of violence," said Tayfun Mater, 54, an engineer and leftist activist who helped organize the rally. "We are against the Bush administration policies, we are against the Al Qaeda policies. We are against all violence."

Some Turks believe that Ankara's friendship with Washington and with Israel have made Turkey a target of Islamic extremists determined to attack Western interests, Jews and moderate Muslims. The Turkish government supported the U.S.-led war in Iraq, though most Turks opposed it.

Emre Gonensay, a former foreign minister and retired economist, said the anger expressed Saturday against the United States would not translate into any change in the U.S.-Turkish relationship.

"On the contrary," he said, "this is solidifying the relationship. The Americans' offers of help, NATO's offer of help, these are creating a new cooperation. That's the only positive aspect of all this. If [the attackers] intended to drive a wedge between Turkey and the West, they did the opposite."

At least 18 people have reportedly been rounded up for questioning about the bombings. Police officials have told Turkish media that a Turk bought trucks used in two of the attacks, at the consulate and the Neve Shalom Synagogue, from the same garage at the same time.

The state-run Anatolian news agency reported the arrest Saturday of an additional person suspected of planning another bomb attack on behalf of a far-left group. The suspect, who was not identified, was arrested during a raid on a house in Ankara, where police also seized documents they said were used to plan the attack, the news agency said.

The suspect was reported to belong to the Revolutionary People's Liberation Party-Front, which has claimed responsibility for minor bomb attacks recently but has no known connection to Islamic extremists.

The week's bombings cast a spotlight on efforts of Islamic extremists to undertake operations within Turkey, a country used by militants primarily as a transit point for radicals trained in Afghanistan, Bosnia-Herzegovina or Pakistan to reach Europe.

One bombing suspect, named by Turkish media, had ties to the Turkish Hezbollah group, according to officials in the man's hometown. Turkish Hezbollah, not related to the Shiite Muslim organization of the same name based in Lebanon, is an Islamic group that fought Kurdish separatists but has been largely disbanded.

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