Thousands of mourners gathered in Turkey's Gulyazi village Dec. 30, 2011 for funerals of 35 Kurdish civilians killed in raid by Turkish military jets
Thousands of mourners gathered in Turkey's Gulyazi village Dec. 30, 2011 for funerals of 35 Kurdish civilians killed in raid by Turkish military jets

Thousands of people in southeastern Turkey turned out Friday for funerals of 35 Kurds killed in a botched Turkish airstrike, and unrest has broken out in some areas.  Authorities said the bombing run was a mistake, supposedly targeting Kurdish rebel fighters but instead killing civilians - smugglers crossing the border to evade Turkish customs.  The deaths caused widespread outrage and put the spotlight on Turkey's policy toward its restive Kurdish minority.

Many of the mourners were weeping while others cried out in anger.  The 35 were killed while smuggling contraband into Turkey.  Authorities said they were mistaken for militants from the Kurdistan Workers Party, the PKK.

After news of the deaths spread, thousands of protesters clashed with police in the center of Istanbul. Similar clashes also occurred in many towns and cities in Turkey's predominantly Kurdish southeast, where the killings occurred.

Unrest erupted again Friday in the main southeastern city of Diyarbakir where thousands clashed with security forces across the city. The latest unrest follows calls for an uprising from the PKK, which says Thursday's violence was a deliberate massacre.

Selahattin Demirtas, one of the leaders of the main legal Kurdish party, the Peace and Democracy Party, or BDP, slammed the government.  

He said all of the victims were villagers, including children and high school students, who rely on smuggling to make a living, and that officials in the region know that.  Demirtas then recalled earlier remarks by the prime minister, referring to Syria's embattled President Bashar al-Assad when he said "a government that kills its own people loses its legitimacy."

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan's government has promised an investigation, and a state prosecutor will be looking into the incident.

Mr. Erdogan offered his personal condolences on Friday:

"An unfortunate and distressing" incident has occurred, he said.  Images transmitted by drones showed a group of 40 people in the area, he said, and "it was impossible to say who they were," Erdogan said.  

Thursday's attack put a critical spotlight on the government's support for a strong military crackdown on the PKK, which is fighting for autonomy and Kurdish ethnic rights.

In the past few weeks dozens of militants have been killed in a series of operations. Many of those operations relied on information from newly acquired U.S.-made surveillance planes, drones which have been leased to Turkey.  

According to political scientist Cengiz Aktar of Istanbul's Bahcesehir University, Turkey's aerial surveillance of Kurdish rebels with bases in Iraq is similar to the tactics U.S. forces use along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border.

"It is clear all high-tech military equipment is welcome.  Trusting the pilotless drones which will solve a human problem.  And similar type of mistakes are happening all the time in Afghanistan," Aktar said.

The military crackdown on the PKK comes as mass arrests of members of pro-Kurdish BDP, NGOs and journalists continue.  Since the June general election human-rights groups say thousands of people have been detained under Turkey's broad anti-terror laws, suspected of links to the PKK.

Earlier this month the deputy prime minister, Bulent Arinc, called for greater Kurdish rights and reforms to the country's controversial anti-terror laws.

However, political scientist Aktar says the latest killings only underline the inconsistencies in government policy.

"The soft message by the dove, Bulent Arinc, is welcomed.  As they are not followed by any concrete action they are still pending in the air; while the other rhetoric, which is not rhetoric which is action, is very much there.  So what we see today a political, proactive reformist action - very radical, robust, completely military response to the Kurdish conflict," Aktar said.

Observers warn the killings of the 35 have added to already growing fears that the conflict is rapidly escalating.  With further arrests of Kurdish activists expected, along with more military operations, government claims of wanting a political solution to the conflict will increasingly be questioned.

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