Turkish Leader Defends Military After Deaths
Turkey’s prime minister stood by his military while promising an investigation into the killing of 35 villagers by Turkish warplanes, after the incident triggered antigovernment protests and brought an unusual message of condolence by the armed forces.
The Turkish government acknowledged that the victims of the airstrike Wednesday night targeting Kurdish rebels on the Iraqi border were in fact Turkey-based smugglers, not terrorists, and that an operational mistake was made.
The government of Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has come under fire over the incident, which some pro-Kurdish groups said was deliberate, a charge the government and military denied.
Villagers in Sirnak, a Turkish province that borders Iraq, stood by victims of a Turkish airstrike on Wednesday that killed 35 civilians believed to be smugglers. Images of the dead fueled protests across Turkey.
But in statements on Friday, Mr. Erdogan appeared more defensive than conciliatory, even as he has sought Kurdish support for a planned overhaul of the Turkish Constitution in 2012.
Calling the event “unfortunate and saddening,” Mr. Erdogan said smugglers wouldn’t travel in groups of 40, as the victims of the strike did, but in groups of three to ten people.
He also said that the Kurdish rebels’ outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, had camouflaged themselves as smugglers before, and brought weapons to Turkey to be used in operations against security forces.
He criticized media reports blaming the military and accusing the government of targeting civilians. “It is cruel to run a headline stating that ‘the state bombarded its own people.’ …These things may have happened in the past, but not during our administration,” he said.