DIYARBAKIR — Two blasts ripped through a Kurdish rally in Turkey on Friday, killing four people and injuring more than 100 two days before a general election.
The blasts occurred about five minutes apart at an election rally being held by the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) in the predominately-Kurdish city of Diyarbakir Friday evening.
Thousands had gathered in Diyarbakir’s Istasyon (Station) Square and had been waiting to hear HDP Co-Chair Selahattin Demirtas speak when the explosion occurred. The announcer had to request that the crowds make way for ambulances attempting to reach the wounded. A reporter for Reuters said that Turkish police began firing water cannons to disperse protesters after the explosion.
Officials initially blamed a faulty power transformer at the rally site but later ruled that possibility out.
Tensions have run high as the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) campaigns to become the first party with Kurdish origins to win seats in parliament in Sunday’s election. Previously, Kurdish MPs have joined the legislature as independents.
The HDP needs to overcome a 10 percent vote threshold, and some opinion polls show it could seize enough seats to deprive the long-ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party) of the majority it has enjoyed since sweeping to power in 2002.
HDP Chairman Selahattin Demirtas called on his supporters to remain calm. “We don’t know the cause of the blast,” he said in a live interview with CNN Türk, adding the injuries included the loss of limbs.
“It is thought-provoking that this occurred so close to the election,” he added.
Violence had broken out on Thursday at the HDP’s campaign rally in the eastern province of Erzurum, a ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party) stronghold. Hundreds of youths, some carrying Turkish flags and chanting “God is greatest”, sought to reach the square where Demirtas was speaking. Turkish police had to fire tear gas and water cannon to disperse the mob. A van decorated with HDP flags was also set ablaze and its driver sustained burns before fleeing.
The number of attacks against HDP rallies and campaign centers has been on the rise in recent weeks in the lead up to Turkey’s critical general election on June 7. Last month twin bomb explosions in the party’s Adana and Mersin offices left six managers and a staff member injured.
If the HDP is able to pass the 10 percent threshold required to enter parliament, it would deal a serious blow to President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s hopes of establishing an executive ‘super presidency’ free of checks and balances, which has increased the intensity of criticism aimed against the HDP by the president and the AK Party.