Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan_311.
(photo credit: Reuters)
ANKARA - Turkey's Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Friday promised a full investigation into airstrikes on the Iraqi border that killed 35 villagers whom the military had mistaken for Kurdish militants - an attack that has infuriated minority Kurds in Turkey and Iraq.
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The strikes sparked clashes on Friday in Turkey's restive mainly Kurdish southeast and in the autonomous Kurdish northern Iraq region.
In the border village of Gulyazi, thousands of mourners attended funerals after digging deep graves along a steep cliff. The bodies, most of them young villagers who were smuggling cigarettes and diesel, were ferried on tractors or wrapped in carpets lashed to donkeys making their way along snowed tracks.
Breaking his silence over an attack Turkey's largest pro-Kurdish party has labeled a crime against humanity, Erdogan said video recordings of the air raid would be examined and forensic experts would be dispatched to the area.
"All necessary steps will be taken," Erdogan told reporters, calling the
incident, one of the largest single-day civilian deaths in a
decades-long conflict, unfortunate and saddening.
But Erdogan also defended the Turkish military, which has been fighting
Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) armed militants since the group took up
arms against the Turkish state in 1984.
The military had said its warplanes launched air strikes after drones spotted what looked like suspected PKK militants.
"Unfortunately, it's not possible to determine who's who from these
images taken by drones. These images showed a group of 40 men near the
border," Erdogan said, adding the PKK has used smugglers and mules to
carry out attacks in the past.
"Our F16 jets have bombed the area as a result."
The attack undermined efforts by Erdogan to engage Kurds in talks to
write a new constitution expected to address long-held Kurdish
grievances. Kurds, a minority that inhabits Turkey, Iraq, Syria and
Iran, have become increasingly assertive.
Some 500 protesters gathered on Friday in Arbil, the capital of Iraq's
Kurdish region, to protest the killings. Some protesters threw stones
and clashed briefly with Kurdish security forces, but there were no
reports of casualties.
"The crime ... is a real genocide, a war crime and a crime against
humanity, and breaches international laws," Kurdish activist Ali Mahmoud
said. "We demand that Turkey be judged in the international courts."
The protesters carried PKK flags and pictures of its leader, Abdullah
Ocalan, and shouted, "fight, fight for freedom" and "Erdogan is a
"The Kurdish people must protest and condemn what happened," activist
Lalo Rangder said. "Erdogan is a terrorist and has two faces in the
sense that he asks the international community to protect Syrians and at
the same time is killing Kurdish people with forbidden weapons."
Clashes also broke out across cities in Turkey's Kurdish areas and in its largest city Istanbul.