ISTANBUL (Reuters) - Suspected separatist militants threw an explosive device and opened fire on a Turkish police escort, killing one officer, in northern Turkey near where Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan held an election rally on Wednesday.
Erdogan had left by helicopter from the city of Kastamonu by the time the attack happened. Campaigning has begun for a parliamentary election on June 12 that is expected to result in Erdogan winning a third consecutive term.
News channels said two police officers were wounded in the attack which happened as a campaign bus escorted by police vehicles passed through a wooded hilly area on a country road from Kastamonu.
Television pictures showed Erdogan subsequently arriving at another election rally in the northern province of Amasya, where he was greeted by thousands of AK Party supporters waving party flags.
According to the NTV report a grenade was thrown at the police vehicle and gunmen opened fire as it burst into flames.
Television images showed fire services arriving at the scene and smoke rising from the police car and an ambulance parked nearby, while security forces combed the hillsides.
Addressing a rally later in Amasya, Erdogan appeared to blame separatist militants for the attack.
“Those dark minds, these terrorists, these separatists are only able to do this, those who understand there is nothing they can do through the ballot box,” Erdogan said.
Kastamonu province, on the Black Sea, is not known as a scene of guerrilla violence. However, Kurdish, leftist and Islamist militants have frequently carried out gun and bomb attacks across Turkey in the past.
More than 40,000 people have been killed in a separatist conflict in southeast Turkey since the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) took up arms against the state in 1984.
The AK Party swept to power in 2002, and while it has overseen a period of unprecedented prosperity, critics fear it harbours a secret agenda to roll back the republic’s secular constitution.
Erdogan denies any such intention, although he does plan to introduce a new constitution if elected in order to make a clean break with a past era of military rule.
Writing by Simon Cameron-Moore; Editing by Daren Butler