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Erdoğan defiant as opposition puts blame on him for failed operation in Iraq

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Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan remained defiant on Wednesday in the wake of statements from opposition parties holding him responsible for the killing of 13 Turkish nationals at the hands of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) during a recent military operation in northern Iraq.

At a meeting of his Justice and Development Party (AKP) in Ankara, Erdoğan directly targeted main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, who in remarks on Tuesday put the responsibility for the killing of the hostages directly on Erdoğan.

“You are saying that Erdoğan is responsible for the killing of 13 men. How shameless you are! How on earth can you hold me, who has been following the case of these martyrs for five years, six years, responsible for their deaths? You shameless man,” Erdoğan told Kılıçdaroğlu.

The killing of the 13 hostages at the hands of the PKK led to shock in Turkey as the public was not even aware that the PKK had been holding the men — most of whom were security forces members — hostage since as early as 2015.

Erdoğan also said he sent his defense and interior ministers, Hulusi Akar and Süleyman Soylu, to Kılıçdaroğlu to inform him about the operation but that he apparently thought it was not worth the effort.

Defense Minister Akar announced on Sunday that Turkish soldiers discovered 13 bodies in a cave in the Gara region of northern Iraq, where Ankara launched an operation against the PKK on Feb. 10. Turkey accuses the PKK of executing the hostages, while the PKK claims they were killed in Turkish Armed Forces (TSK) airstrikes.

Kılıçdaroğlu was quick to respond to Erdoğan’s remarks, posting a video message on Twitter later on Wednesday. In the message Kılıçdaroğlu said Erdoğan was insulting him and going as far as calling him “shameless” because he had defended the slain hostages’ right to life. Kılıçdaroğlu said he would continue to demand an accounting from Erdoğan for the deaths of the 13 men.

Following his response, the main opposition leader filed a lawsuit against Erdoğan for his comments, seeking a symbolic 5 kuruş in damages, his lawyer announced from Twitter on Wednesday.

We will also justify the criticism that “Erdoğan is the person responsible for the martyrs!” Celal Çelik, Kılıçdaroğlu’s lawyer, said on Twitter.

İYİ (Good) Party leader Meral Akşener also directed criticism at Erdoğan for the killing of Turkish hostages, saying she would want to find out whether government negligence played a part in the deaths.

Akşener said at a meeting of her party that the TSK had successfully carried out similar operations under more difficult circumstances before but had never encountered such a result. “Why did they face such a result this time? We would like to find out. We would like to know the role of politics in this [failure].”

The İYİ Party leader also criticized Erdoğan for holding crowded party rallies and making jokes at a time when the country was mourning the deaths of the 13 men.

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