June 6, 2015 / 6:07 AM / in 3 years

Turkey's Erdogan trades accusations with Kurdish leader after bombs

ISTANBUL/DIYARBAKIR, Turkey (Reuters) - Turkey’s pro-Kurdish opposition party on Saturday accused President Tayyip Erdogan of failing to show respect for two of its supporters who died in a bomb attack, a day before polls that could see it thwart his bid for sweeping new powers.

People react after an explosion during an election rally of pro-Kurdish Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP) in Diyarbakir, Turkey, June 5, 2015. REUTERS/Sertac Kayar

Erdogan is hoping the ruling AK Party he founded will win a crushing victory in Sunday’s parliamentary vote, allowing it to change the constitution and hand him broad presidential powers. But the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) could play the spoiler if it crosses the 10 percent mark required to enter parliament.

Tensions heightened on Friday after two bombs tore through a HDP rally in the city of Diyarbakir in the mainly Kurdish southeast, killing two and wounding at least 200.

HDP leader Selahattin Demirtas criticized Erdogan, saying the president had gone ahead with his own rally after news of the attack broke, and had been slow to mention the tragedy.

“He should go to Diyarbakir. Is he not the president of 77 million people? He ought to leave flowers where people were killed,” Demirtas told a rally on the Asian side of Istanbul.

Erdogan countered by saying it was Demirtas who should apologize, and accused him of instigating violence in October, linked to events in Syria, that killed dozens. He offered condolences and described the attack as a “provocation” designed to undermine Sunday’s election. He did not spell out who he believed to be the provocateur.

In Diyarbakir hundreds of people marched to the scene of the attack, chanting “Murderer Erdogan” and bearing a banner declaring “peace despite everything”.

Others joined a convoy of cars heading to a funeral for a 16-year-old boy. Onlookers made the victory sign and chanted “martyrs don’t die” and “AKP you will pay for this”.

HDP deputy Idris Baluken said his party believed hostile rhetoric from Erdogan and the AKP had paved the way for the attacks, and that it had complained to the government.

“ANSWER AT THE BALLOT BOX”

Recent polls suggest the HDP could pass the 10 percent mark and enter parliament, robbing the AKP of dozens of seats and possibly keeping it from forming a single-party government.

The party is attempting to move beyond its Kurdish roots and draw support from center-left and secularist sympathizers as Erdogan’s religious tone has become more pronounced.

Demirtas accused pro-government newspapers of giving scant coverage of Friday’s attacks. He held up their front pages as he spoke to thousands from atop a campaign bus.

“I know we are angry, but we will not act in anger. We will act in good conscience. We will be smart and we will give our answer at the ballot box and stand up for our country,” he said.

Demirtas said his party had been the target of 140 violent attacks during the campaign, including a double bombing in southern Turkish cities last month which wounded six.

He said the HDP would continue to promote peace talks between Kurdish rebels and the government, whatever the election outcome.

Erdogan has accused the HDP of being a front for the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), which took up arms in 1984 in an insurgency that has killed 40,000 people.

Jailed PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan and Ankara launched peace talks more than two years ago.

Additional reporting by Seyhmus Cakan in Diyarbakir; Writing by Daren Butler; Editing by David Dolan, Ralph Boulton and Mark Trevelyan

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