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In error, Turkish strikes kill 35 smugglers

ANKARA, Turkey -- Turkish warplanes mistakenly killed 35 smugglers and other villagers in an operation targeting Kurdish rebels in Iraq, a senior official said Thursday, one of the largest one-day civilian death tolls during Turkey's 27-year drive against the guerrillas.

The killings spurred demonstrations in Istanbul and several cities in the mostly Kurdish southeast, and were the latest incident of violence to undermine the Turkish government's efforts to appease the aggrieved Kurdish minority by granting it more cultural freedoms.

Huseyin Celik, a spokesman for Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan's ruling party, said authorities were still trying to identify the dead.

All of the victims were under the age 30 and some were the sons of village guards who have aided Turkish troops in their fight against rebels, he said.

"According to the initial information, these people were not terrorists but were engaged in smuggling," Celik said, adding that Turkey was ready to compensate the victims. "If there was a mistake, if there was a fault, this will not be covered up, and whatever is necessary will be done."

In Istanbul, police used tear gas and water cannons to disperse pro-Kurdish protesters denouncing the airstrikes, the Dogan news agency reported.

Earlier, the Turkish military confirmed the Wednesday night raids, saying its jets struck an area of northern Iraq frequently used by rebels to enter Turkey after drones detected a group approaching the often unmarked mountainous border.

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