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String of attacks on Turkish police and military blamed on PKK

The PKK, a Kurdish militant group in Turkey, has increased the frequency of car bombings after its commander Cemil Bayik threatened increased attacks against police.

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    Turkish authorities and local residents stand outside a damaged building after an explosion in Elazig, eastern Turkey, on Thursday, Aug. 18, 2016. Two car bombings targeted police stations in Turkey, killing a number of people and wounding hundreds, officials said Thursday. Turkish authorities have banned distribution of images relating to the Elazig explosion within Turkey.
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A string of bombings, blamed on Kurdish rebels and targeting Turkey's security forces, killed at least 14 people and wounded more than 220 others, officials said Thursday.

Two of the attacks were car bombings that hit police stations in eastern Turkey, while a third – a roadside blast – targeted a military vehicle carrying soldiers in the southeast of the country.

Authorities say the assaults were carried out by the Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK, which has launched a campaign of car bombings targeting police stations or roadside bomb attacks against security force vehicles. Last week, PKK commander Cemil Bayik threatened increased attacks against police in Turkish cities.

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The wave of attacks come as Turkey is focused on a clampdown on suspected followers of a movement led by U.S.-based Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen, which the government accuses of orchestrating a failed military coup last month that killed at least 270 people.

The first car bombing hit a police station in the eastern province of Van late Wednesday, killing a police officer and two civilians. At least 73 other people – 53 civilians and 20 police officers – were wounded, officials said.

Another car bombing hit police headquarters in the eastern Turkish city of Elazig early Thursday, killing at least five people, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said. Officials said earlier 146 people were wounded and 14 of them were in serious condition.

Video footage showed a large plume of smoke rising from the area. Cars were overturned and the windows of the four-story building and its wings were blown out.

In the southeastern province of Bitlis meanwhile, five soldiers were killed after rebels detonated a roadside improvised explosive device as an armored military vehicle was passing by, officials said. Five other soldiers were wounded in the attack. A government-paid village guard, helping the security forces battle the PKK was also killed in a clash with rebels in the province, the state-run Anadolu Agency reported.

Prime Minister Binali Yildirim traveled to Elazig to visit the site of the bombing as well as those wounded in the attack.

He told reporters there that both the PKK and the Gulen movement were directed by the same "intelligence" intent on causing Turkey harm, without elaborating.

"The (Gulen movement) has lost its assertiveness and has handed over the duty to the (PKK)," Yildirim said. "The intelligence that directs them is the same. When one's duty ends, the other takes up the duty."

Yildirim vowed to fight the PKK until it is "eliminated."

"No terror organization will force this nation to cow in submission," Yildirim said.

Speaking in Ankara, Erdogan said Turkey was jointly attacked by various organizations who he said were in close contact with each other and were "acting under the same motivations even if they have different names."

He said the Turkish security forces have killed at least 182 Kurdish rebels in the weeks following the July 15 failed military coup, insisting that there has been no slackening in the fight against the PKK.

Fighting between the PKK and Turkey's security forces resumed last year after a fragile peace process collapsed. Since then, more than 600 Turkish security personnel and thousands of PKK militants have been killed, according to Anadolu. Human rights groups say hundreds of civilians have also died in the clashes.

Tens of thousands of people have died in the conflict since the PKK took up arms for autonomy in southeast Turkey in 1984. Turkey and its allies consider the PKK a terrorist organization.

The Turkish government has embarked on a "hearts and minds" campaign to try and undermine support for the PKK, as The Christian Science Monitor reported in July: 

At a time when the 32-year-old Kurdish insurgency is arguably at its deadliest, Turkey claims its “hearts and minds” strategy is succeeding in undermining popular support for the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK). But long-time observers fear that the government is failing to win over Kurds, and that the fight is leading the country toward deeper instability

“The irony is that there is serious dissatisfaction with the PKK within the Kurdish population, but the government’s response has been so heavy-handed that they have not really undermined its support,” says Aliza Marcus, author of “Blood and Belief: the PKK and the Kurdish Fight for Independence.”

Amnesty International condemned Thursday's car bombings as "the latest in a series of reckless and brutal attacks."

"Those responsible for these crimes show a contempt for the right to life and must be brought to justice," said Andrew Gardner, the rights group's Turkey researcher.

On Thursday, authorities imposed a temporary blackout on media coverage of the bombing in Elazig, citing "public order and national security" concerns.

Turkey frequently imposes such bans following deadly bomb attacks. Thursday's order asked media organizations to refrain from broadcasting and publishing anything that may cause "fear in the public, panic and disorder and which may serve the aims of terrorist organizations."

Lou Kesten in Washington contributed to this report.

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