DIYARBAKIR, Turkey (Reuters) - Two blasts ripped through a Kurdish rally in Turkey on Friday, killing two people and injuring more than 100 in what President Tayyip Erdogan described as a “provocation” designed to undermine peace before Sunday’s parliamentary election.
The explosions occurred as tens of thousands of people gathered for the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) election rally in Diyarbakir, the largest city in mainly Kurdish southeast Turkey.
Initial reports said there had been one explosion but a senior security source told Reuters there were two blasts. Officials initially blamed a faulty power transformer at the rally site but later ruled that possibility out.
Eyewitness Guy Martin, a British photographer, told Reuters the blasts occurred some five minutes apart - the first in a rubbish bin which was ripped apart and the second in front a power generator. In the aftermath he saw one person who had lost a leg and others with shrapnel wounds.
”It was a heart-shaking, ribcage-shaking noise, he said of one of the blasts. “The most terrifying thing is that crush of people. It was chaos, I couldn’t move, people were panicking.”
“The police started firing teargas at people who were helping the injured or fleeing the scene this enflamed the situation,” he added. “The mood is angry. People want revenge.”
The explosions killed two people and injured more than 100, Erdogan said in an interview with broadcaster ATV, having earlier expressed condolences for the victims.
“It is very important that all our citizens are careful in the face of provocations like this aimed at undermining our democracy, the atmosphere of peace and brotherhood in our country,” he said in a statement.
Tensions have run high as the 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 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 told CNN Turk. “It is thought-provoking that this occurred so close to the election,” he added.
Television footage showed people carrying the injured on stretchers as organizers of the rally for the pro-Kurdish HDP announced on loudspeakers that the explosion had been caused by a fault in a power generator and urged people to stay calm.
The explosion rocked the parade ground just before Demirtas was to address the crowd. Police fired water cannon to disperse protesters who remained at the parade ground. The rally was subsequently canceled.
Security has been tight at HDP political rallies. On Thursday, nationalists clashed with HDP supporters at a Demirtas rally in the northern town of Erzurum.
Demirtas has said his party has been the target of more than 70 violent attacks during the campaign.
Erdogan, who used to head the AK Party, has accused the HDP of being a front for the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which took up arms in 1984 in an insurgency that killed 40,000 people.
Jailed PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan and Ankara launched peace talks more than two years ago.
Writing by Ayla Jean Yackley, Humeyra Pamuk, Daren Butler; Editing by Nick Tattersall and Angus MacSwan