turkish troops 224.88 ap.
(photo credit: AP)
The Turkish military confirmed Monday that eight of its soldiers were missing after an ambush by Kurdish rebels that left 12 other soldiers dead and brought the northern Iraq border area to the brink of war.
The military said it had had no contact with the eight soldiers after Sunday's clash and said 34 rebels had been killed so far in an offensive launched in retaliation for the attack.
"Despite all search efforts, no contact has been established with eight missing personnel since shortly after the armed attack on the military unit," the military said in a statement on its Web site.
Earlier, the pro-Kurdish Firat news agency, based in Belgium, released the names of seven people it said were Turkish soldiers abducted by separatist fighters in Sunday's ambush. It said an eighth soldier was also taken captive but did not release his name.
An AP Television News cameraman saw a convoy of 50 military vehicles, loaded with soldiers and weapons, heading from the southeastern town of Sirnak toward Uludere, closer to the border with Iraq.
It was unclear whether the vehicles were being sent to reinforce troops engaged in fighting with rebels on Turkish soil or were preparing for possible cross-border action. Tens of thousands of Turkish troops are already deployed in the border area.
The guerrilla ambush that killed a dozen soldiers outraged an already frustrated public. Spontaneous demonstrations erupted across the country and opposition leaders called for an immediate strike against rebel bases in Iraq, despite appeals for restraint from Iraq, the U.S. and European leaders.
More than 2,000 protesters in Istanbul, mostly members of an opposition party, denounced the attack by the Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK, and urged the government of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan to resign, the private Dogan news agency reported.
In Ankara, hundreds convened at a main square shouting "Down with the PKK and USA!" "We'll go into Iraq and we'll hang Barzani," and "Apo's dogs can't bring us down!". Massoud Barzani is the leader of Iraq's Kurdish region where PKK rebels have bases; Apo is Kurdish rebel leader Abdullah Ocalan's nickname.
Ambulances decorated with Turkish flags drove around main streets, their sirens on.
Some 13,000 schoolchildren in Bilecik in eastern Turkey held a minute of silence while people marched down a main street, waving the Turkish flag, the state-run Anatolia news agency reported.
In Bursa, in northwest Turkey, some protesters walked to a military conscription office and asked to enlist to fight rebels.
Turkey's military said Sunday it had launched an offensive backed by helicopter gunships in retaliation for the attack, shelling rebel positions along the rugged Turkish-Iraqi border.
The military convoy included trucks carrying containers full of weapons, around a dozen artillery guns and some 150 soldiers.
The rebel attack occurred four days after Parliament authorized the government to deploy troops across the border in Iraq, amid growing anger in Turkey at perceived US and Iraqi failure to live up to pledges to crack down on the PKK.
Erdogan said he told US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice in a telephone conversation on Sunday night that Turkey expected "speedy steps from the US" in cracking down on Kurdish rebels and that Rice expressed sympathy and asked "for a few days" from him.
The United States opposes any unilateral action by Turkey, fearing it could destabilize the most stable part of Iraq.
Sunday's attack raised the death toll of soldiers in PKK attacks in the past two weeks to around 30.
The PKK claimed Sunday it captured a number of Turkish soldiers. Eight soldiers were missing, according to private NTV television. There was no official confirmation of the capture.
Rebels periodically cross the border to stage attacks in their war for autonomy for Turkey's predominantly Kurdish southeast. More than 30,000 people have died in the conflict that began in 1984.