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Turkey blasts kill 27; officials vow fight

By SEVA ULMAN

ANKARA, Turkey, Nov. 20 (UPI) -- Istanbul has been hit by a second set of terrorist blasts in less than a week, this time targeting British interests and killing at least 25 people.

Thursday's blasts shook the country's commercial center, hitting the British Consulate and the U.K.-based HSBC bank's Turkish offices. The attacks killed at least 27 people and wounded more than 390, the semi-official Anatolian news agency reported.

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One of the bombs exploded in front of the British Consulate in the Beyoglu district causing the collapse of the building's left wall. At least eight people were killed and British Consul General Roger Short was reported missing, police said. Turkish TV stations said he was dead.

Short was reported to have entered the building right after the blast. The explosion ripped through the usually crowded shopping district. Witnesses said there was a large ditch in front of the consulate building. Before the explosion at the British Consulate, a Skoda minivan was seen at the spot.

The other bomb exploded near the HSBC bank in the Levent district, that has British investments.

Police immediately cordoned off both areas, allowing only rescue teams in. The death toll is expected to rise.

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Police said both incidents were suicide attacks. Interior Minister Abdulkadir Aksu who arrived at the scene said the explosions were of same nature as Saturday's blasts at two synagogues in the city that killed 24 people.

Two groups -- al-Qaida and the Islamic Brotherhood - claimed responsibility for Thursday's attacks, Anatolian reported.

"We will continue to attack Masonic targets ... The Muslims are not alone," a Turkish speaking man on the phone said.

Police, however, said the "form of claim" did not look like al-Qaida the group held responsible for the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on New York and Washington.

Police in Ankara tightened security in front of the U.S. and British embassies, as well as the HSBC bank's branches in the capital. The closed its offices Thursday. The Istanbul Stock Exchange and the Gold Market also announced they would remain closed.

The road leading to other public buildings were closed to traffic.

"We will not bow to terrorism," Foreign Minister and Deputy Prime Minister Abdullah Gul told reporters.

Justice Minister Cemil Cicek told reporters Thursday's blasts may be linked to last Saturday's attacks on the two Synagogues.

"It seems the attacks have been conducted with the same barbaric methods," he said.

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Al-Qaida also claimed responsibility for Saturday's attacks.

In London, British Prime Minister Tony Blair called the attack an "outrage."

"Once again we are reminded of the evil these terrorists pose to innocent people everywhere and to our way of life," he told a joint news conference with U.S. President Bush. "... There must be no compromise ... no hesitation on confronting this menace ... and defeating it utterly."

Bush, who is on a state visit to Britain, said the attacks showed the dangers of terrorism.

"The nature of the terrorist enemy is evident once again," he said. "We see their utter contempt for innocent life."

Although Turkey is a overwhelmingly Muslim country, it has a secular constitution. The country's powerful military has often clashed with the religious establishment and once even staged a coup when Islamists won national elections.

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