ANKARA, Turkey – ANKARA, Turkey (AP) — A roadside bomb attack killed nine people traveling on a minibus Thursday, authorities said, in the latest violence to shake Turkey's turbulent southeast, where Kurdish guerrillas have been fighting for autonomy for decades.
Turkish troops launched an operation to hunt those believed to be behind the attack, which also injured four people, including a 15-month-old baby, near the village of Gecitli in the rugged Hakkari province bordering Iran and Iraq, Hakkari Gov. Muammer Turker said.
Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan vowed to press ahead with the fight against the rebels of the Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK. The PKK later denied responsibility.
"These kinds of incidents will not deter us," Erdogan said after the attack. "Terrorism has a cost but it will not remain unanswered."
The rebels suggested it may have been the work of forces trying to discredit the group.
Roj Welat, a spokesman for the PKK told the Associated Press: "We have nothing to do with this explosion and we do not target civilians.
"The Turkish government and the groups loyal to it are behind these attacks as part of their attempts to distort the image of the PKK," Welat said.
In a statement carried by the pro-Kurdish Firat news agency, the group blamed what it called renegade elements within the state that operate clandestinely against perceived enemies and insisted that a unilateral cease-fire it declared would remain in force until Sept. 20.
Kurdish rebels have targeted military vehicles with improvised explosive devices, with the latest such attack on Wednesday in Hakkari province. There have also been several other attacks on police over the past week, which would violate the cease-fire the rebels declared as a pro-Kurdish party called on the government to open dialogue with rebels for a peaceful solution.
The Hakkari governor's office initially said 10 people were killed in the blast, but later reduced the death toll to nine. It said the mix-up stemmed from the condition of the bodies and that one of the victims had two different names.
A brief scuffle broke out between Kurdish villagers and soldiers who arrived to investigate, after some villagers allegedly refused to hand over a bag they found, CNN-Turk television said. Soldiers could be seen firing shots into the air while a youth was shown throwing a rock at troops.
Two backpacks, two Russian-made anti-tank mines and plastic explosives were discovered near the scene, the state-run Anatolia news agency reported.
On Tuesday, thousands of Kurds attended a funeral for one of nine Kurdish rebels killed in a clash in Hakkari last week. Youths at the funeral threw stones at police, but dispersed after the region's Kurdish mayor intervened, the Anatolia news agency reported.
The pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party boycotted a referendum Sunday over the constitution, arguing that ethnic Kurdish identity was not fully recognized by the state.
The party is now backing an initiative for a five-day boycott of schools when they open on Sept. 20 to force the government into allowing Kurdish-language education for Kurdish children. The party's leader, Selahattin Demirtas, has said he will not send his daughter to school on Monday, prompting an angry reaction from the Education Minister Nimet Cubukcu who accused the politician of "using children for political aims" and said legal action would be taken against the parents.
A court in Diyarbakir, Turkey's largest city in the mainly Kurdish southeast, issued an order for the removal of all posters calling for the schools' boycott, Anatolia reported.
Teaching in schools is in Turkish, although Turkey recently took steps toward wider Kurdish-language education by allowing the opening of Kurdish-language institutes and Kurdish courses at universities.
The rebels have been fighting for autonomy in the country's Kurdish-dominated southeast since 1984. The conflict has killed tens of thousands of people.
Associated Press Writer Yahya Barzanji in Sulamaniyah, Iraq contributed to this report.