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Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Turkey launches manhunt after deadly resort blasts

ANKARA (AFP) - Turkish police are hunting for at least two suspects after a powerful explosion killed three people in a popular Mediterranean resort on a second day of attacks against tourist destinations.

Monday's blast in Antalya -- at the height of the tourist season -- occurred opposite a market near a municipal building in the city's bustling centre, lined with restaurants, cafes and bars.

Three Turkish men were killed and 20 others were wounded, one of them critically.

Local police spokesman Akif Aktug told reporters late Monday that the cause of the blast remained unknown, but said they were looking for two suspects.

Several Turkish newspapers reported Tuesday that the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), which has led a separatist armed campaign against Ankara since 1984, was behind the attack.

The mass-circulation Sabah newspaper put the number of wanted suspects at three while the Radikal daily reported claims that the explosion was the result of two kilogrammes (4.4 pounds) of plastic explosives being detonated by a mobile phone -- a method employed by Kurdish militants in past attacks.

The explosion in Antalya, a city popular with both European and Turkish tourists, came just a day after a slate of bombings in Marmaris, a seaside town in southwestern Turkey, and the country's biggest city Istanbul.

Twenty-one people, including 10 Britons, were injured in Marmaris early Monday when a bomb ripped through a mini-bus travelling on the main street while the bombing in Istanbul late Sunday injured six Turks.

A radical Kurdish militant group, calling itself the Kurdistan Freedom Falcons (TAK), claimed responsibility for both attacks which apparently aimed to hurt the lucrative tourism sector and scare off tourists.

In a statement on its website, the group said it carried out the attacks in revenge for the detention of Abdullah Ocalan, the leader of the PKK and its fight for Kurdish independence in southeastern Turkey.

Turkish officials say TAK is a front for PKK attacks on civilian targets; the PKK claims TAK is a splinter group over which it has no control.

TAK, which in April threatened to attack tourist destinations, has claimed responsibility for 12 other bomb attacks in urban centres across the country this year in which six people were killed and more than 100 others injured.

Police in the western city of Izmir, meanwhile detained a suspected PKK member in possession of 2.5 kilogrammes of plastic explosives who was planning bomb attacks in the city following the blasts in Marmaris and Antalya, the Anatolia news agency reported.

The Finnish presidency of the
European Union has condemned the attacks. "The Presidency condemns these senseless acts of terror. There is no justification whatsover for such attacks on innocent civilians. The Presidency expects that those responsible will be brought to justice", it said in a statement.

The tourism sector is a vital source of income for the Turkish economy as it stages a recovery from two massive crises in 2001 and 2003.

It accounts for some 5.5 percent of Turkey's gross national product and brought in 18.1 billion dollars (14.1 billion euros) in 2005.

In 2006, the sector -- already hit by bird flu, which killed four people in Turkey at the beginning of the year, outrage in the Muslim world at cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed published in Western newspapers -- saw a 6.4 percent drop in the number of foreign visitors since the beginning of the year compared to the same period last year, according to official statistics.

Sector representatives remained pessimistic on Tuesday.

"Just when we think things are looking up, something comes up. Authorities should introduce more security measures,", Osman Ayik, the head of Association of Mediterranean Touristic Hoteliers told the daily Vatan neWspaper.

"I fear we may see unfortunate incidents like this in the coming seasons," he added.

Travel agents, contacted by AFP, said Tuesday that they had not been asked to cancel reservations.
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