By Humeyra Pamuk
ISTANBUL, July 28 (Reuters) - Shocked and angry residents in a conservative Istanbul neighbourhood blamed separatist Kurdish guerrillas on Monday for two bomb explosions, which killed 17 people and injured more than 150 others.
A loud blast on Sunday evening lured people onto a pedestrian street of a busy shopping and eating area in Gungoren, a stronghold of the ruling AK Party on the European side of Turkey’s biggest city. Minutes later a second bigger bomb in a nearby trash can exploded, ripping through the crowd.
"This is the first incident I have ever seen in this neighbourhood. I have not come across fights and I have been living here for 20 years," said Arzu Bagdat, 33, textile trader.
No one has claimed responsibility for the bomb attacks, the deadliest in Turkey since 2003.
"This was such a trap for people. It’s probably the PKK, who else would do such a professional job," asked Emin Ilkbahar, a shaken and visibly upset 39-year-old marble worker who had spent Sunday with a friend who died in the evening attacks.
The Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) took up arms against the Turkish state in 1984 with the aim of establishing an ethnic homeland in southeast Turkey. Some 40,000 people have been killed in the conflict, largely focused on fighting between guerrillas and security forces in the southeast.
On Monday pro-PKK websites reported the guerrillas as denying any involvement in Sunday’s blasts.
Analysts said recent offensives against the separatists, including the bombing of 12 suspected PKK targets in northern Iraq on Sunday, had cornered the PKK to take more radical actions to target civilians, a rare tactic for the group.
The Istanbul blasts came at the height of tensions in Turkey as the ruling AK Party fights for survival in court and police probe a shadowy ultra-nationalist group, called Ergenekon, suspected of potting a coup to overthrow the government.
But several residents of Gungoren, a non-descript low to middle class district where an Islamic brand of nationalism thrives, said they doubted any links to the court case or Ergenekon. A big pro-Kurdish rally was cancelled late last year because of police concerns of plans to disrupt the meeting.
The area was also not one frequented by tourists, who have been targets of past bombing campaigns.
"This hasn’t got anything to do with the court case or Ergenekon. It is most likely a reaction to the military’s attacks on the PKK," said Mustafa Ozyalcin, who scrapes a living by doing odd jobs in the neighbourhood.
"I hope and think members of the Constitutional Court will follow common sense for the sake of this country and not close down the AK Party now."
Locals residents — many pious Muslims but also nationalists who migrated from the Black Sea over the years to search for a better future — put up Turkish flags overnight and applauded Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan when he visited on Monday.
"We made this street a prestigious street for the neighbourhood. We wanted the people to get a nice area and be able to walk around," Muharrem Ergun, an AK Party and local municipality member, told Reuters.
"Those who died were mainly working class people."