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44 killed in feud over wedding plans

EIGHT men suspected of gunning down 44 people during an engagement ceremony were arrested yesterday in Turkey, accused of killing a couple whose wedding they opposed along with relatives and friends in a 15-minute rampage.

Two girls survived by concealing themselves beneath the bodies of their slain friends during the shootings in Turkey's impoverished rural southeast, where tribal ties and rivalries can eclipse the power of the state.

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said the attack was "the result of a feud between two families."

Security forces backed by armored vehicles set up checkpoints on roads leading to Bilge, the village where the killings took place late Monday. Authorities also cut telephone communications with the hamlet.

A news agency report said the masked attackers had wanted the young woman, Sevgi Celebi, to marry one among their own group of friends or relatives but that her family would not allow it.

It cited unnamed villagers as saying there was a dispute between the attackers' family and the family of the would-be groom, and that Celebi's family had resisted pressure to cancel the marriage plans.

"No customs and mores can be used as an excuse for this massacre," Erdogan said. "This is the painful price we are paying for such customs and mores."

Among the dead, he said, were six children, 17 women and 21 men. He said some suspects had the same family name as the victims.

"The people were killed at a happy event, during a ceremony, while praying," Erdogan said. "The fact that they pointed guns and massacred children, defenseless people, is atrocious."

Reports said the gunmen opened fire as men and women prayed in separate rooms in line with tradition in parts of Turkey.

One teenage girl said she lost six members of her family. "I heard the shooting and I hid in the barn because I was afraid. I was really afraid," the girl said.

Yesterday morning, four large earthmovers dug graves for victims in the village cemetery. Residents carried gravestones and two dozen seated women wept beside a tree, slapping their legs in grief. Men silently watched from a hilltop nearby as soldiers patrolled the area.


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