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Page last updated at 18:26 GMT, Tuesday, 5 May 2009 19:26 UK

Turkey PM condemns wedding attack

Victimes are buried in Bilge Koyu (5 May 2009)
Locals say there has been a feud between two families in the village

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has condemned as "atrocious" an attack by gunmen on a wedding party in south-east Turkey in which 44 people were killed.

Mr Erdogan said the attack on Monday in Bilge Koyu in Mardin province was "the result of a feud between two families".

"No kind of tradition can justify this killing, no conscience can justify this kind of pain," he told Turkish MPs.

Eight armed men with the same surname as many of the victims have so far been arrested in connection with the crime.

The bride, the groom, his parents and his four-year-old sister, as well as the village's imam were all killed in the attack, officials said. Three other villagers who were wounded are being treated in hospital.

Turkey's interior minister had earlier ruled out any involvement by Kurdish rebels who are active in the area, close to the Syrian border.

'Beyond words'

In his weekly address to members of his Justice and Development Party in parliament, Prime Minister Erdogan said six children and 17 women were among those killed in the "massacre" in Bilge Koyu.

Map of Turkey

"The people were killed at a happy event, during a ceremony, while praying," he said. "The fact that they pointed guns and massacred children, defenceless people, is atrocious... it's beyond words," he added.

President Abdullah Gul meanwhile condemned the attack as an example of "primitivity... and cruelty that is impossible to explain".

Witnesses said at least four men had stormed the two homes where up to 250 guests had assembled for prayers during the wedding, firing automatic rifles and throwing hand grenades.

"They broke into the house and started spraying the place with bullets, hitting both men and women, their faces were covered with masks," one woman said.

A teenage girl who lost six members of her family said she had survived only because she had hidden in a nearby barn when she heard the gunfire.

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.

Long-running feud

The Turkish state news agency, Anatolia, cited unnamed villagers as saying that the assailants were members of the Celebi family who wanted the bride, Sevgi Celebi, to marry one of her relatives.

Bilge Koyu (5 May 2009)
Security forces have been deployed in the village to prevent further violence

The villagers said there was a feud going back about 20 years between the Celebis and the family of the groom, Habip Ari, and that the bride's father and mother had resisted pressure to cancel the marriage.

Unconfirmed reports, however, said the assailants also belonged to a militia called the Village Guards, who have helped government forces fight the rebel Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) since 1984.

The BBC's David Byrne in Istanbul says the Village Guards have long been accused of involvement in illegal activities and if the group's complicity in these killings is proved, it is likely to reinforce calls for it to be disbanded.

Interior Minister Besir Atalay has been quick to play down suggestions that the attack was the responsibility of Kurdish militants.

"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 told reporters on Tuesday morning.

The PKK has been battling for Kurdish autonomy since 1984 in the south of Turkey in a war 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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