Turkish air strike mistakenly kills 35 cigarette smugglers
Published 30/12/2011 | 05:00
Thirty-FIVE people killed in Turkish air strikes in Iraq were cigarette smugglers whom the military mistook for Kurdish rebels, Turkey admitted last night.
The victims "were not terrorists" but people smuggling cigarettes into Turkey from Iraq, ruling party spokesman Huseyin Celik said.
Officials are investigating possible intelligence failures that led to the cross-border strikes.
Mr Celik expressed regret for the deaths and suggested the government would compensate the victims.
Earlier, the military said its jets had struck an area of northern Iraq frequently used by the rebels to enter Turkey after drones detected a group approaching the border.
The killings -- one of the largest one-day civilian death tolls during Turkey's 27-year drive against the guerrillas -- sparked angry demonstrations in Istanbul and several cities in the mostly Kurdish southeast.
All of the victims were under 30 and some were the sons of village guards who have aided Turkish troops in their fight against rebels, he said.
"According to the initial information, these people were not terrorists but were engaged in smuggling," Mr Celik said.
"If there was a mistake, if there was a fault, this will not be covered up, and whatever is necessary will be done."
In Istanbul, police used tear gas and water canons to disperse pro-Kurdish protesters denouncing the air strikes, the Dogan news agency reported.
Dogan footage showed some demonstrators smashing glass panels at a bus stop and others throwing stones at a police vehicle near Taksim square, a transit hub adjacent to shopping and hotel districts.
Plainclothes officers hustled or dragged away several protesters.
Earlier, the Turkish military confirmed the Wednesday night raids, saying its jets struck an area of northern Iraq frequently used by rebels to enter Turkey after drones detected a group approaching the often unmarked mountainous border.