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Page last updated at 07:14 GMT, Tuesday, 5 May 2009 08:14 UK

Many die in Turkey wedding attack

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Relatives gathered outside the hospital in Mardin following the attack

Masked attackers have raided a wedding party in south-eastern Turkey, killing 44 people, including six children.

Sixteen women also died when attackers wielding automatic rifles and grenades burst into a celebration in Bilge Koyu, in Mardin province, officials said.

Turkey has fought Kurdish separatists in the area for 25 years, but this attack has been linked to a local "blood feud" and a pro-Turkish militia.

Eight people were arrested with weapons overnight, the interior minister said.

Besir Atalay said investigators had spent the night speaking to eyewitnesses in an effort to identify those responsible.

The identities of those arrested have not yet been announced.

According to what my relatives told me unknown gunmen opened fire from the door and from the window. I've seen lots of bodies, their faces are unrecognisable
Tarik Kalkan, local resident

"Eight people have been caught and detained, and their weapons confiscated. This can be understood as a blood feud between two families," Mr Atalay said.

Local media said there had been a feud between families in the village in recent years.

Other unconfirmed reports said the assailants included members of a militia known as the Village Guards, who have helped government troops fight Kurdish separatist rebels in recent years.

The Village Guards were set up in 1984 and have long been accused of involvement in illegal activities, says the BBC's David O'Byrne in Istanbul.

If the group's complicity in these killings is proved, it is likely to reinforce calls for it to be disbanded, our correspondent adds.

Horrifying scene

The attack took place at a wedding celebration in the village of Bilge Koyu, about 20km (12 miles) from the city of Mardin. One report said there were about 200 guests at the wedding.

One relative who took the body of his nephew to a hospital said the site of the attack was horrifying.

"You could not believe your eyes," Ahmet Can told Channel 24.

Map of Turkey

Ferhat Ozen, deputy governor of Mardin province, said the assailants stormed into a house where wedding guests had assembled, firing automatic rifles and throwing hand grenades.

Paramilitary police were sent to the village to pursue the attackers, he said.

Another man whose relatives were caught up in the attack accused the gunmen of using explosives.

"The shooting started right after they took their position to perform prayers," Tarik Kalkan said.

"I've seen lots of bodies, their faces are unrecognisable. It's obvious that some explosives were also used."

Mr Atalay, the interior minister, was quick to play down suggestions of a Kurdish terror strike.

"Based on the investigations so far, we have reached the opinion that it was not a terror event, but the prosecution is still investigating," he said.

Although the interior minister did not mention the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) by name, analysts say his comments suggest the government is ruling out an attack by Kurdish militants.

Rebels have been battling for more autonomy since 1984 in the south of Turkey - an insurgency which has claimed more than 40,000 lives.

The violence means many people carry guns - and our correspondent says tribal and family loyalties in the region run deep.



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