ISTANBUL – A bomb concealed in a vehicle exploded near a police station in southeast Turkey on Monday night, Turkish media reported, killing at least eight people and wounding dozens amid an escalation in fighting between Kurdish rebels and Turkish security forces.
There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the blast in Gaziantep, near the Syrian border, where tens of thousands of refugees who have fled the civil war in their country are sheltering in Turkish camps.
Kurdish militants are active in the area, and their fight for autonomy in Turkey's predominantly Kurdish southeast has intensified in recent weeks. The Kurdish rebel group PKK often targets military patrols with roadside bombs and ambushes, and it also has a long record of attacks in civilian areas.
Television footage showed firefighters attempting to douse a fierce blaze that gutted several vehicles. Medics assisted a wounded person on a stretcher, and ambulance sirens wailed as bystanders gathered to survey the wreckage. Some angry men chanted slogans against Kurdish rebels and their jailed leader, Abdullah Ocalan.
NTV television said eight people died and as many as 50 were wounded. Turkey's Anadolu news agency reported the same number of dead, and cited 61 wounded. Reports said explosives in the car, which was parked at a bus stop, were detonated by remote control.
The blast comes at a delicate time for the government of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, which, along with Western and Arab allies, is seeking the ouster of Syrian President Bashar Assad by assisting the Syrian political opposition.
Turkey's foreign minister, Ahmet Davutoglu, was quoted by Hurriyet newspaper on Monday as saying the United Nations should establish refugee camps inside Syria and that his country, already host to nearly 70,000 Syrian refugees, would struggle to cope if the number increases substantially.
Within its borders, the Turkish state has granted more cultural rights to Kurds, who make up some 20 percent of Turkey's population of 75 million, but there is still a great deal of distrust between Ankara and many Kurds.
Turkey also is concerned that the chaos in Syria could lead to a power vacuum that allows Kurdish militants to organize inside Syria to intensify their campaign for self-rule in Turkey's southeast. The Kurdish rebel group PKK already operates from bases in the mountains of northern Iraq, and Turkish jets have periodically conducted bombing raids there.
Turkish forces have staged several military drills along the border with Syria in a show of force.
Last week, a Turkish lawmaker was freed by his Kurdish rebel captors. Huseyin Aygun, a member of parliament from the main opposition party, was kidnapped at a roadblock while touring his precinct in the eastern province of Tunceli.
While rebels have previously kidnapped soldiers, local politicians and tourists, it was the first abduction of a parliament member by the rebels. It came days after the government claimed troops had killed as many as 115 rebels in clashes and ahead of the 28th anniversary of the rebels' first armed attack on Aug. 15, 1984.