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Turkey police raid militants after leftist attacks

At least 10 people were arrested in raids on the Okmeydani district of Istanbul, a stronghold for the far-left DHKP-C
Protestors during clashes with riot police after the funeral of a protester on 23 May 2014 in the Okmeydani, Istanbul (AFP)

Turkish police on Thursday launched early morning raids against suspected members of an ultra-leftist group in Istanbul, after two deadly shoot-outs blamed on the militants sent a wave of fear through the city.

At least 10 people were arrested in the raids in the Okmeydani district of Istanbul as dozens of police were deployed in armoured vehicles in the area, Turkish media said.

The raids came two days after a prosecutor was killed in Istanbul in a hostage-taking crisis that was blamed on the far-left Revolutionary People's Liberation Party–Front (DHKP-C).

On Wednesday, police detained a gunman who entered an Istanbul branch of the ruling AK Party and hung from its window a Turkish flag with the emblem of a sword added.

In a separate incident, a woman carrying guns and hand grenades attacked the police headquarters in Istanbul, making it the third attack on an official building in the past two days, officials and media said.

Turkish police shot the militant woman dead as they opened fire.

A photograph published by local media showed a red-haired woman lying on the ground with a rifle strapped to her and a handgun by her side. Television footage showed police vehicles sealing off the street in the central Aksaray neighbourhood.

"The Istanbul police headquarters on Vatan street was targeted by rifle fire and a female terrorist was killed in the clash," the Istanbul governor's office said in a statement on Wednesday.

The woman was carrying a rifle, two hand grenades and one pistol, it said. 

Turkish media named the dead woman as Elif Sultan Kalsen, 28, saying she was a known member of the DHKP-C.

Initial reports said she had a male accomplice who escaped and was then arrested. However, the CNN-Turk channel said that the accomplice was a passer-by who had been wounded in the crossfire.

The DHKP-C has claimed a string of attacks in Turkey in recent months, including an attempted grenade attack in January on police guarding the Dolmabahce palace in Istanbul that caused no serious casualties.

It also claimed a suicide attack in Istanbul later that month, but amid a bizarre sequence of events then withdrew the claim, saying it had made a mistake.

It had said at the time that the suicide bomber was Elif Sultan Kalsen but her parents then said the body was not hers. She has been missing ever since.

The authorities then indicated the bomber was a Russian woman from the Caucasus who had married an Islamist militant.

'Unresolved issues' 

The DHKP-C says it wants revenge for the killing of Berkin Elvan, who died in March last year after spending 269 days in a coma due to injuries inflicted by police in the mass protests anti-government of early summer 2013.

The Istanbul prosecutor Mehmet Selim Kiraz who was killed after being taken hostage by DHKP-C militants was himself investigating the Elvan case.

Elvan, who lived in Okmeydani which is known as a hub for left-wing and Kurdish sympathisers, has become an icon for the far-left since his death.

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan returned home earlier than planned from a visit to Romania and visited the home of Kiraz's widow late on Tuesday to share his condolences.

The violence has come at a tense time in Turkey as the country prepares for legislative elections on 7 June where the Islamic-rooted ruling party is seeking a landslide victory to change the constitution.

"It is not clear whether or not disrupting the election campaign is a specific objective of DHKP-C," Marc Pierini, visiting scholar at Carnegie Europe, told AFP.

But he noted the attacks were coming at a time of a high degree of polarisation in Turkey and amid "unresolved issues" including the cases of those killed in the 2013 protests.

After attending Kiraz's funeral Wednesday, Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said the government was fighting an "evil alliance" and warned that disorder on the streets would not be tolerated. 

"We won't fall into this trap, we won't sacrifice this country to them," he said.

In a sign of tensions, Davutoglu said he had personally denied accreditation to the funeral for media organisations who had used an image of the prosecutor being held captive by the militants.

"Freedom of the press is as important as not playing into the hands of terrorist propaganda," Davutoglu said.

Tuesday's attack also coincided with the worst power cut in Turkey in 15 years but the authorities have vehemently denied any link between the two incidents.