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At least 20 injured in Istanbul twin blasts

Published December 11, 2016 3:59am By FULYA OZERKAN, AFP Twin blasts rocked Istanbul on Saturday, with a car bomb detonating at a football stadium injuring at least 20 people as a suicide attacker struck a nearby park, Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu said.

Around 20 police officers were injured in the stadium blast, said Soylu, although he did not specify whether there were civilians among the wounded.

The car bomb blast struck the area outside Istanbul giant Besiktas football team's stadium after a match against the Bursaspor club.

"Two bombings may have taken place according to our understanding: one outside the stadium... the other at Macka Park," Soylu told reporters.

"The explosion at Macka Park is believed to have been carried out by a suicide bomber."

It is unclear whether anyone was injured in the park blast.

"The (stadium) attack targeted the riot police's bus," the minister said.

State broadcaster TRT World showed images of the wreckage of a car, engulfed in flames with emergency services swarming around the scene outside the sports venue.

Other footage showed severely damaged police vehicles, while witnesses said the force of the blast had shattered the windows of several nearby homes.

An AFP correspondent near the stadium saw ambulances gathering in the aftermath of the explosion, as well as broken glass on the road.

"I heard two explosions in less than one minute, followed by sound of gunshots," one witness told AFP on condition of anonymity.

Besiktas football club issued a statement condemning the attack.

"Terrorists... attacked our heroic security forces who ensure that both our fans and Bursaspor's supporters are safe. We will stand firm against the vile attackers who will never achieve their goal."

Bursaspor football club said none of its fans had been injured, privately-owned NTV television reported.

Police cordoned off the area around the stadium immediately after the blasts, which occurred near Prime Minister Binali Yildirim's office in Istanbul and about a kilometer (0.6 miles) from the busy Taksim Square, a magnet for tourists.

Bloody year of attacks

The government slapped a broadcast ban on footage of the attack, as is becoming in the aftermath of major incidents in the country.

Turkey has experienced a bloody year of militant attacks in its two biggest cities that have left dozens dead and put the country on high alert.

Kurdish militants have twice struck in Ankara, while suspected Islamic State group suicide bombers have hit Istanbul on three occasions.

In June, 47 people were killed in a triple suicide bombing and gun attack at Istanbul's Ataturk airport, with authorities blaming IS.

Another 57 people, 34 of them children, were killed in August in a suicide attack by an IS-linked bomber at a Kurdish wedding in the southeastern city of Gaziantep.

The US embassy in Turkey condemned the latest attack.

"Our hearts and prayers are with the people of #Istanbul tonight," the embassy wrote on Twitter. "We condemn tonight's cowardly attack, and salute the courage of the Turkish people as we stand with them against terror."

‘Solidarity, support’

The Council of Europe also expressed support for Turkey.

"Turkey can rely on the solidarity and support of European governments and Council of Europe @coe after today's #Istanbul #terrorist attack," it said in a statement.

Turkey is still reeling from a failed July 15 coup blamed by the government on the US-based Islamic preacher Fethullah Gulen that has been followed by a relentless purge of his alleged supporters from state institutions.

Saturday's attack came after the Turkish army and its Syrian rebel allies on Saturday entered the IS bastion of Al-Bab in northern Syria, according to a monitoring group.

Heavy fighting was ongoing late Saturday in the town near the Turkish border, which has been under IS control since 2014.

Al-Bab is the last bastion IS has in Syria's northern Aleppo province.

The explosions also came hours after Turkey's ruling party submitted a parliamentary bill that would dramatically expand the powers -- and possibly the tenure -- of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, a move his opponents fear will lead to one-man rule.

If approved, the 21-article constitutional change would see Turkey switch from a parliamentary system to an executive presidency, amid concerns that the country's government is adopting increasingly authoritarian policies. — Agence France-Presse



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