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2 Bombs Go Off as Turkey Prepares for Visit by Bush

Four people are killed and 20 are wounded in blasts in Istanbul and Ankara. A NATO summit is scheduled to begin this weekend.

June 25, 2004|Amberin Zaman | Special to The Times

ANKARA, Turkey — Bombs exploded in Istanbul and Ankara on Thursday, killing at least four people and injuring more than 20, just days before President Bush's scheduled arrival to meet with Turkish leaders and attend a NATO summit.

All of the deaths and most of the injuries occurred in Istanbul, where a bomb exploded on a city bus as it pulled up to a state-run blood-donation center. Television images showed the wounded being taken to hospitals in the Fatih commercial district.

Leaders of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization are scheduled to meet in Istanbul starting Sunday.

"It does appear that these terrorist attacks are intended to disrupt preparations for the upcoming NATO summit, which is a gathering of free nations united in our global fight against terrorism," Bush spokesman Scott McClellan said. "In terms of the schedule, nothing has changed."

Several hours before the bombing, a smaller blast occurred near a hotel in Ankara where Bush is expected to stay.

The governor of Istanbul, Muammer Guler, said the bomb on the bus went off on the lap of an unidentified female passenger, who died in the blast. Guler said she was most likely a member of "an illegal left-wing terrorist group" and was probably carrying the bomb to an unknown target when it went off.

"The purpose is to hurt Turkey's image before the NATO summit," he said.

A survivor who identified herself as Sevim told the private CNN-Turk news channel that the bomb went off shortly after officers in a police car, which had been following the bus, ordered the driver to halt. Her account suggested that police had been aware of the bombing plan.

An obscure Marxist-Leninist group claimed responsibility for the explosion, a Turkish news channel reported.

Hours earlier, two police officers and a civilian were injured in the explosion in Ankara, the capital. The bomb went off about 150 yards from the entrance of the Hilton Hotel, where Bush is expected to stay. Police said they had received an anonymous tip and officers were approaching a package containing the bomb when it exploded.

U.S. officials preparing for Bush's first official visit to Turkey reportedly were in the hotel at the time of the blast.

"Turkish authorities are investigating the incidents and are keeping us informed," said a U.S. Embassy spokesman, who declined to elaborate.

Concerns about security have grown in Turkey since suicide bomb attacks in November at two Istanbul synagogues, the British Consulate and a British-owned bank. More than 60 people were killed. Al Qaeda claimed responsibility for them.

Anti-Western sentiment has been rising. An overwhelming majority of the population is opposed to the U.S. occupation of neighboring Iraq.

"The main worry is that today's explosions are part of a series of attacks that will be mounted before and during the summit," said a Western diplomat, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

Turkish officials said there was no cause for panic.

"Turkey is a sufficiently strong and secure country. Such incidents happen everywhere -- in London, in Paris, everywhere," Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul said.

Bush is expected to arrive in Ankara late Saturday and meet Sunday with Turkish President Ahmet Necdet Sezer and Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

He is scheduled to fly to Istanbul for the two-day summit. Among those attending the summit will be British Prime Minister Tony Blair, French President Jacques Chirac and German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder.

About 13,000 police officers will be on duty to protect the Bush delegation in Ankara, police say. Security measures also have been increased dramatically around the area where the summit will take place in Istanbul, Turkey's largest city.

Concrete barriers have been built around the so-called conference valley, which will be closed to traffic. AWACS surveillance planes will patrol the sky. Navigation through the Bosporus Strait, which bisects Istanbul, will be suspended during the conference.

Times staff writer Edwin Chen in Washington contributed to this report.

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