Thousands attend funeral of pro-Kurdish human rights lawyer

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Tens of thousands of people on Sunday attended the funeral in south-eastern Turkey of pro-Kurdish human rights lawyer Tahir Elci, DHA news agency reported.

Elci and two police officers were shot dead in the south-eastern city of Diyarbakir when members of the banned Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) clashed with security forces, Interior Minister Efkan Ala said Saturday.

It was not immediately clear who fired the fatal shots.

As Elci’s body was taken from a local hospital, those in the cortege carried banners that read, “We will never forget you,” in Turkish and Kurdish, the Anadolu news agency reported.

Selahattin Demirtas of the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) said at the funeral: “We will carry Elci’s last words as a flag of peace … We did not want war, blood, death; we wanted to live in our lands freely,” Anadolu reported.

Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu and President Recep Tayyip Erdogan have condemned the attack.

Elci, 49, was the head of the local chamber of lawyers and was speaking to the media with a group of lawyers in the Sur quarter of the city when he was shot, according to DHA.

TV footage of the incident shows Elci calling for peace in the region shortly before his death. “We demand that war, fighting, weapons and military operations should stay away from this area,” he said.

Elci was speaking in front of a mosque, the minarets of which had been severely damaged by fighting.

The Kurdish stronghold of Diyarbakir is frequently the scene of clashes between the PKK’s youth organization and police.

Elci had been temporarily arrested on propaganda charges in October after he said the PKK was not a terrorist organization during a television appearance.

The PKK began as a separatist group, launching its first attacks in 1984, saying the Kurdish minority was facing systematic discrimination. Since then, the group has moderated its stance to demanding autonomy and greater rights.

Some 40,000 have died in the conflict over the past three decades, mostly in the south-east of Turkey, which is largely Kurdish. The minority group makes up an estimated 15 per cent of the population.

A two-year ceasefire between the PKK and the state collapsed in July and the conflict between the sides has restarted, leaving hundreds dead in Turkey.

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