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Turkish police detain ruling party member after attack on opposition leader

Eight others detained following attack on CHP's Kemal Kilicdaroglu at a funeral for a soldier in Ankara on Sunday
Opposition leader Kemal Kilicdaroglu is punched in the face (Screengrab)

Turkish police on Monday detained nine people, including a member of the ruling AK party, after an attack on opposition leader Kemal Kilicdaroglu, Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu has said.

Kilicdaroglu, 70, of the Republican People's Party (CHP) was attacked on Sunday by a mob as he attended a funeral in the Cubuk district of Ankara for a soldier killed fighting Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) militants in the southeast. 

Soylu said that Kilicdaroglu's recent "contacts" with the pro-Kurdish Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP) during March's local elections had made him a target.

The CHP held Soylu responsible for the "provocation" after he said last year he had ordered governors not to allow CHP members to join soldiers' funerals.

"CHP's contacts with the HDP, and HDP's policy that doesn't distance itself from the PKK are all happening before the public eye," Soylu told a new conference.

"Kilicdaroglu should have informed the authorities if he wanted to attend the funeral."

"It's wrong to blame the interior ministry for such incidents while partnering with the political arm of the PKK at the same time," Soylu added, saying Kilicdaroglu's party was trying to make political gains from the attack.

During campaigning for the local polls, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's often accused Kilicdaroglu and the CHP of backing the outlawed PKK and showed videos of the opposition leader at his rallies.

The president has also criticised the CHP's informal alliance with the HDP.

The HDP did not stand candidates in major cities where CHP support was strong, allowing the party to garner more votes and beat its opponents in critical races including Istanbul.

'We can never endorse violence'

The attack came days after the opposition CHP won Ankara and Istanbul from Erdogan's AKP in 31 March local elections in a stinging blow to the ruling party. 

A video from Sunday's attack went viral and sparked outrage on social media, with the hashtag #KilicdarogluYalnizDegildir ("Kilicdaroglu is not alone") becoming a trending topic.

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The chief suspect, identified only by his initials OS, was arrested in Sivrihisar in central Anatolia and was being taken to Cubuk, private NTV television reported.

The AKP later identified him as Osman Sarigun and said he was a party member who would face a disciplinary hearing for expulsion, the AFP news agency reported.

"AKP is against any form of violence. Our principles certainly reject violence. There is no room for violence in democratic politics," AKP spokesman Omer Celik said on Twitter.

Five other detainees were already testifying at the police station in Cubuk, the state-run Anadolu news agency reported. 

On Monday, Erdogan tweeted: “Unfortunately an unwanted incident occured in the funeral of our martyr in Ankara’s Cubuk.

"Protests addressed to CHP chairman Kemal Kilicdaroglu turned to an act of violence.

"The incident is being investigated in full. We can never endorse violence. We are against all types of violence and terror."

'They are not genuine Muslims'

After the attack, the CHP chief was taken to a nearby house for security reasons and then taken away in an armoured vehicle, local media reported.

Kilicdaroglu, who spoke to supporters after the incident, said the attack targeted Turkey's unity. 

"The assailants have no respect for the martyr (dead soldier)," he said. "They are not genuine Muslims."

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Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) chairman Devlet Bahceli said it was "impossible" to be comfortable with the attack against Kilicdaroglu.

Electoral authorities have given the CHP candidates their mandates for the Istanbul and Ankara mayor posts, but Erdogan's AKP is seeking a re-run of the Istanbul vote, citing irregularities.

The CHP's Ekrem Imamoglu won the race by a very tight margin after two weeks of recounts.

The CHP's provincial heads in 81 cities plan a simultaneous statement about the "heinous attack" targeting Kilicdaroglu, the party said. 

Kati Piri, the European Parliament's Turkey rapporteur, said heated political rhetoric had fuelled the attack.

"Likely inspired by hate speeches of ruling politicians. This radical polarisation must end," Piri said.