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Tourist attacks highlight Turkish tensions

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Tourist attacks highlight Turkish tensions


The attacks of recent days in Turkey have, once again, shone the spotlight on tensions within the world’s first Muslim democracy between nationalists and separatists and secularists and Islamists. The explosions in Marmaris and Antalya were claimed by the Kurdistan Freedom Falcons – the fifth such attacks this year. They deliberately target tourists – one of Turkey’s main sources of income.

Considered a branch of Kurdish separatists the PKK, the Falcons oppose the Turkish government’s policies towards the Kurdish minority and the presence of some 200,000 soldiers on the border with Iraq. The PKK began its campign for a Kurdish homeland in 1984, in a conflict which has killed tens of thousands of people – mainly Kurds.

Last month, Turkey obtained the backing of Washington to toughen up its campaign against the PKK, considered a terrorist organisation by the US, EU and Turkey. The PKK has recently declared it is ready to consider a ceasefire, probably from sometime in September – a move critics describe as a smokescreen. But Turkey is also home to other tensions, especially with Islamist groups.

In November 2003, after Ankara pledged its support for the war in Iraq, two attacks attributed to al-Qaeda against a synagogue and the British consulate in Istanbul claimed dozens of lives.

In May, a judge was shot dead – apparently for upholding a ruling banning the headscarf for women. It is one of several attacks claimed by Islamic groups critical of what they see as Western influence on the country.

Religious conservatives are angered by the failure of the ruling Justice and Development party to support their fight. Yet Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan once served a prison term for reading an anti-secular poem.

The debate over whether to send troops to Lebanon as part of a UN-led force is also causing divisions. The staunchly secular president and opposition have come out against it, although parliament is expected to approve the plan.

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