ANKARA, Turkey – ANKARA, Turkey (AP) — Kurdish rebels detonated a remote-controlled bomb in Istanbul Tuesday, killing five people and wounding 12 on a bus carrying military personnel and their families, officials said. Authorities stepped up security across Turkey, fearing more attacks.
The dead included the 17-year-old daughter of an officer, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said. The bombing raised the number of Turkish soldiers killed in rebel attacks since Friday to 17.
The Kurdistan Freedom Falcons, an offshoot of the autonomy-seeking Kurdistan Workers Party, or PKK, claimed responsibility for the attack, the pro-Kurdish Firat News agency reported. The group operates in Turkish cities and has claimed several deadly bombings in past years.
Kurdish rebels have repeatedly staged bomb attacks in Istanbul in the past but the last major bomb attack in the city was in 2007, when 17 people were killed. Authorities increased security across the nation, fearing new Kurdish rebel suicide attacks or bombings in tourist resorts and cities, as in the past.
Energy Minister Taner Yildiz on Tuesday said security along two major oil pipelines running from Central Asia and Iraq was also improved. The rebels repeatedly blew up the Iraqi oil pipeline in the past, cutting oil flow to world markets for days.
Rebels fighting for autonomy in the country's Kurdish-dominated southeast have dramatically stepped up their attacks on Turkish targets this month and had previously threatened to expand their war to cities in the west of the country.
The roadside bomb on Tuesday went off on a usually quiet side road as the bus passed shortly after leaving a military housing complex, NTV television said. Three victims died at the scene and two later in the hospital.
After the attack, Erdogan said his country would doggedly maintain its "struggle against terrorism," and insisted that the government would provide whatever is needed to the country's military to battle the rebels.
He blamed the rebels for the suffering of the Kurdish people in the southeast.
"No one has won, the resources of the country have been wasted and the fighting brought nothing but tears and blood," Erdogan said. "We're not going to surrender to this language of violence."
He also pledged more moves to grant cultural rights to minority Kurds. The government has allowed Kurdish language courses, opened a Kurdish language faculty and allowed broadcasts in Kurdish on state television so far, he said.
"We will continue to act responsibly and courageously for future generations. We will not make concessions on democracy despite terrorism, sabotages," Erdogan said. "If we shut down the opening, then terrorism, warlords and vampires who feed on the blood of the young would win."
Turkish troops killed seven Kurdish rebels in the country's north and southeast in two separate clashes overnight, the Anatolia agency said.
Kurdish rebels accuse Turkey of not establishing dialogue with them or with imprisoned Kurdish rebel chief Abdullah Ocalan and of refusing to declare an unconditional amnesty or allow Kurdish language education in schools.
Turkey firmly rules out dialogue with the rebel Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK, which is considered a terrorist organization by the United States and the European Union, but is granting more cultural and political rights to Kurds in the hope of reducing support for rebels in the poor southeast.
But the escalation of violence seriously threatens to derail the reconciliation process, with each attack fueling nationalism and deepening anger on both sides.
Police on Tuesday detained dozens of members of a pro-Kurdish party for alleged ties to the rebels in Istanbul and prosecutors launched an investigation into a pro-Kurdish lawmaker, Bengi Yildiz, for publicly calling on the Kurdish people not to send their sons to the fighting, Anatolia said. It is a crime in Turkey to make statements urging people to avoid compulsory military service.
The military said on Tuesday that two Kurdish rebels were killed in an overnight clash in the northern province of Gumushane — far away from the traditional theater of fighting in the country's southeast. Five other rebels were killed late Monday when they attacked a military unit in the southeastern province of Diyarbakir, the military said. One soldier was killed and five other people, including three civilians, were wounded in that attack, it added.
The PKK has used northern Iraq as a springboard to stage hit-and-run attacks on Turkish targets in its decades-long campaign for autonomy in Turkey's Kurdish-dominated southeast. The Turkish military says around 4,000 rebels are based just across the border in Iraq and that about 2,500 operate inside Turkey.
Turkish warplanes often have bombed Kurdish rebel hideouts there, and troops have crossed the border to hunt the rebels down.