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Turkey targeted in bomb attacks before expected rebel ceasefire

Turkey's Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan arrives for a news conference as he is flanked by Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu (L), Economy
Turkey's Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan arrives for a news conference as he is flanked by Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu (L), Economy

By Daren Butler

ISTANBUL (Reuters) - Turkish government and ruling party offices came under bomb and missile attack overnight in what a deputy prime minister said on Wednesday could be an attempt to wreck a peace process with Kurdish militants.

Early on Wednesday, a small bomb exploded near state offices on the Asian side of Istanbul, damaging windows but resulting in no casualties, while police defused separate explosives in front of a cultural center in the city.

Hours earlier, unidentified assailants attacked the Justice Ministry and offices of the ruling AK Party with homemade bombs and a shoulder-fired missile in the capital Ankara. One person was slightly wounded in the ministry attack. There have been no claims of responsibility.

The explosions occurred before an expected ceasefire call on Thursday by jailed Kurdish militant leader Abdullah Ocalan, who has been in talks with state officials to try to end a three-decade-old conflict that has killed some 40,000 people.

The ceasefire call, expected to coincide with the Kurdish New Year, would be a major step in what is shaping up to be the most serious effort yet to end Turkey's conflict with Ocalan's Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) militants.

"Various groups that we know to be against the (peace) process could have chosen these targets," Deputy Prime Minister Bulent Arinc told reporters. "I think this could have been done to frighten and intimidate the public."

The struggle with the PKK, considered a terrorist group by the United States and the European Union as well as Ankara, burns at Turkey's heart, and there are forces on both sides opposed to a resolution.

Speaking in Denmark, where he is on an official visit, Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan said the authorities had uncovered "important information" about the attacks and would comment further later, according to Turkish television.

Arinc said the leftist DHKP-C (Revolutionary People's Liberation Party-Front), one of whose members blew himself up at an entrance of the U.S. embassy on February 1, killing a Turkish guard, could be responsible.

"Some of the evidence gathered last night suggests the DHKP-C could have carried out this action. We are not saying this for sure," he said.

LEFTIST MILITANTS MORE PROMINENT

Turkish police have detained more than 100 people in a series of operations against the DHKP-C since January, most recently seizing 12 people on Tuesday.

The DHKP-C, listed as a terrorist organization by Turkey and the United States, has carried out retaliatory attacks before for arrests of its members and has become more prominent in recent months as the PKK peace process has advanced.

The leftist group has co-operated in the past with the PKK and would have little to gain from a peace settlement.

The pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party (BDP), which is involved in the peace process, condemned the Ankara attacks.

"Everybody in favor of a solution and peace must be more resolute, determined and strong in the face of such provocations and must never take a step back," the statement said.

As well as Kurdish militants and far left groups, ultra-nationalists and Islamist radicals have also carried out attacks in Turkey in the past.

In the Istanbul attacks, an assailant threw a small bomb into the garden of a local state official's offices in the Maltepe district on Wednesday, broadcaster NTV said. Police declined to comment on the Istanbul attacks.

In Ankara, the AK Party attack shattered windows on the seventh floor of its headquarters, where Erdogan has an office, while two devices exploded outside the Justice Ministry several kilometers (miles) away.

A large Turkish flag was hung from the front of the AK Party building on Wednesday, concealing the missile damage. Erdogan had already left for Denmark when the attacks took place.

(Additional reporting by Jonathon Burch in Ankara; Editing by Nick Tattersall)

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