Car bomb targets government buildings in eastern Turkish city

September 12, 2016 4:23 AM EDT

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DIYARBAKIR, Turkey (Reuters) - Suspected Kurdish militants detonated a car bomb near local government offices in Turkey's southeastern city of Van on Monday, wounding scores of people, a day after two dozen mayors from Kurdish-run municipalities were stripped of their office.

The blast hit some 200 meters from the Van provincial governor's office, security sources said, ripping through the city's central district and setting buildings and cars aflame.

Governor Ibrahim Tasyapan said 50 people had been wounded, including four police officers and four Iranian citizens thought to have been visiting during the Muslim Eid holiday. Van sits about 100 km (60 miles) from the border with Iran.

"According to our findings, (the driver) went away after parking his vehicle behind barriers at a police checkpoint and 10 seconds later, probably with a remote control, he detonated the bomb," Tasyapan told reporters at the scene.

Southeastern Turkey has suffered numerous bombings since the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) militant group, which has waged a three-decade insurgency for Kurdish autonomy in the region, abandoned a ceasefire in 2015.

Security sources said they suspected the PKK was behind the bombing in Van and that an operation had been launched to catch the suspects. There was no immediate claim of responsibility.

The blast tore the front off a four-storey building. Footage from the Dogan news agency showed water cannon trying to douse flames. The district, normally busy, was more empty of traffic on Monday, the first day of the Eid al-Adha holiday.

Burhan Kayaturk, a ruling AK Party lawmaker from Van, told CNN Turk the blast had targeted his party's offices but they were well-secured and had not been badly damaged. Opposition party offices, including those of the pro-Kurdish Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP), were damaged, CNN Turk said.

"ADMINISTRATIVE COUP"

Turkey appointed new administrators in 24 Kurdish-run municipalities mostly in the southeast on Sunday after removing their mayors over suspected PKK links, triggering protests. Four towns in Van province were affected by the removals.

President Tayyip Erdogan said on Monday that Turkey had evidence the mayors had sent support to Kurdish militants and that they should have been stripped of their roles sooner.

"Our government took this decision based on all this evidence," he told reporters in Istanbul.

The municipalities were run by the HDP's local associates. The HDP, the third-largest party in parliament, decried what it said was an "administrative coup" and declared the move illegal.

Justice Minister Bekir Bozdag chided the U.S. ambassador after his embassy issued a statement on Sunday saying it hoped the appointment of the administrators would be temporary. Bozdag said on Twitter the ambassador should know Turkey "does not allow the intervention of other countries" in its decisions.

Jailed PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan believes a settlement of the three-decade war would be possible in six months if the state agreed to revive peace talks, his brother said on Monday after meeting him for the first time in two years.

Ocalan, in jail since 1999 for treason, negotiated the last ceasefire but was sidelined before the violence reignited. These were his first public comments in 17 months.

(Reporting by Yesim Dikmen, Ayla Jean Yackley and Tuvan Gumrukcu; Writing by Ayla Jean Yackley and Nick Tattersall; Editing by Ralph Boulton and Gareth Jones)



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