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Turkish protesters clash with police in bomb-hit border town

By Nic Robertson and Gul Tuysuz, CNN
May 19, 2013 -- Updated 0636 GMT (1436 HKT)
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • NEW: Provincial governor says security forces have detained 17 people over last week's attack
  • Chanting crowds call for Turkey's government and prime minister to resign
  • A protest over the government's handling of the attack in a Turkish border town turned violent
  • About 50 people died and about 100 were injured in the explosions in Reyhanli

Reyhanli, Turkey (CNN) -- Protesters in a Turkish border town hit by a twin car-bombing a week ago clashed with police Saturday, as they voiced anger over the government's response to the attack.

About 50 people were killed and about 100 injured when the blasts went off in the southern town of Reyhanli, in across the border from Syria's Idlib province, on May 11. One was at the community's city hall and the other in front of a post office.

The protest Saturday began relatively peacefully but descended into chaos as running street clashes broke out with police.

Protesters threw rocks and bottles at the police, who responded by firing tear gas canisters and high-pressure paintballs. Officers also brought out a water cannon.

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Women and children ran from the scene as thick clouds of tear gas spread through the streets at the heart of the confrontation.

Police prevented the protesters from reaching the site of the blasts in the center of the town, which lies in Turkey's southern Hatay province.

The police have not yet commented on the clashes, which quietened down after less than an hour.

The protest -- which started with several thousand people but dwindled to a hard core of several hundred as trouble broke out -- was intended to show support and solidarity for the people of Reyhanli in the wake of the deadly bombings.

Many people in the town are angry at the government's response and say its decision to take in Syrian refugees fleeing the conflict in their country has made Turkey a target for attacks.

The crowd chanted calls for Erdogan and the government to resign.

One family of demonstrators was mourning the death of Ayten Calim, a 20-year-old secretary from Reyhanli who was killed in the bombings last Saturday.

Her brother, Halim Calim, said, "We are here to voice our pain." He and another brother carried Turkish flags and a banner with Ayten's photo on it that read, "We will not forget."

Some have criticized Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan for traveling to the United States this week instead of coming to Reyhanli to show support.

Erdogan has held talks with U.S. President Barack Obama and other U.S. officials in Washington.

Turkish President Abdullah Gul visited Reyhanli Thursday, when he vowed that those responsible for the car bombs would be held accountable.

Celalettin Lekesiz, governor of Hatay province, said Saturday that security forces had detained 17 people so far in connection with the bomb attacks and are hunting for four others, the semi-official Anadolu news agency reported.

All 21 suspects are Turkish nationals, he said.

Lekesiz said the security forces now had detailed information about how the suspects allegedly acquired the explosives and staged the bomb attacks, the news agency reported.

Interior Minister Muammer Guler and other Turkish officials have accused a former Marxist terror group that they say maintains relations with Al Muhabarat, Syria's intelligence services, according to Anadolu.

CNN's Laura Smith-Spark contributed to this report

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