ISTANBUL (Reuters) - The leader of Turkey’s main opposition party was attacked at a soldier’s funeral in Ankara before security guards led him away, in the latest fallout from contested local elections three weeks ago.
Kemal Kilicdaroglu, head of the secularist Republican People’s Party (CHP) that pulled off victories in the March 31 vote, had attended a funeral for one of four Turkish soldiers killed on Friday in clashes with the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK).
Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan, whose AK Party wants the election results annulled in Istanbul, had repeatedly warned during last month’s campaign that PKK members were among the CHP’s list of candidates.
The PKK clashes in the country’s southeast on Friday prompted several pro-government newspapers to tie the soldiers’ deaths to the CHP. “PKK out” was among the slogans shouted at Kilicdaroglu on Sunday, according to video footage of the incident.
Several TV broadcasters showed video in which Kilicdaroglu was hit on the head at least twice as a clutch of security guards and a police officer attempted to keep dozens of fist-pumping men away, some of whom were shouting “shame on you” and “God damn you.”
Kilicdaroglu edged through the crowd to a nearby house, outside of which a crowd chanted “PKK out,” according to broadcaster NTV. More than an hour later he was driven away in an armoured vehicle by police officers.
“They don’t want me to go to our martyrs’ funerals,” Kilicdaroglu, who had been attacked after a funeral in 2016, told supporters outside CHP headquarters. “They think I will step back if they attack me. I will not even take one step back.”
Ankara’s chief prosecutor, Yuksel Kocaman, said six attackers were identified and investigators are looking into whether the incident is terrorism related, according to state-run news agency Anadolu.
“The incident is under control... Investigations started,” said Suleyman Soylu, Turkey’s interior minister. Justice Minister Abdulhamit Gul, also of the ruling AK Party, said: “We will not allow any kind of violence to cast a shadow on democratic politics.”
Initial results and a series of recounts showed that the CHP’s mayoral candidates in Ankara and Istanbul defeated those from the AK Party (AKP), painful losses for Erdogan.
Yet the AKP has submitted two petitions to cancel and re-run the vote in Istanbul, citing irregularities and illegal votes and voters.
Kilicdaroglu was attending the funeral of soldier Yener Kirikci, who was among those killed Friday when PKK insurgents attacked a military base in the mountainous Hakkari province near the Iraq border. The Turkish military said six other soldiers were wounded and 20 PKK members killed in the clashes.
The PKK has waged an insurgency for autonomy in Turkey’s largely Kurdish southeast since 1984, and is deemed a terrorist organisation by Turkey, the United States and the European Union.
One pro-government newspaper, Gunes, ran a headline on Sunday that said: “6 dead and 4 wounded, Are you happy Ekrem?” - referring to the CHP’s new Istanbul mayor Ekrem Imamoglu.
While the High Election Board has not yet ruled on the AKP challenges, Imamoglu took office as Istanbul mayor on Wednesday. “Those who carried out the attack are not our citizens, those who did this acted upon orders,” he told an Istanbul crowd on Sunday.
Reporting by Jonathan Spicer; Additional reporting by Yesim Dikmen and Ece Toksabay in Ankara; Editing by Alison Williams and Louise Heavens