Thousands mourn Kurdish lawyer Tahir Elci in Turkey | News | DW | 29.11.2015
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Thousands mourn Kurdish lawyer Tahir Elci in Turkey

Thousands of people have attended the funeral of Tahir Elci, a prominent Kurdish lawyer and human rights activist who was gunned down in Turkey. Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu has vowed to catch the perpetrators.

Huge crowds filled the southeastern city of Diyarbakir on Sunday to accompany Tahir Elci's flag-draped coffin through the streets.

Elci, president of the Diyarbakir Bar Association and one of Turkey's best-known Kurdish rights advocates, was fatally shot while delivering a press statement in Diyarbakir on Saturday. Two policemen were also killed in the attack.

"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," Selahattin Demirtas, the leader of the pro-Kurdish People's Democratic Party (HDP), told mourners on Sunday.

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Top Kurdish lawyer gunned down in Turkey

HDP deputies and leaders of Turkey's local bar associations gathered at the funeral, where a casket draped in red, green and yellow was carried through the mass of people. The crowd carried a giant black banner which said "We will not forget you," in Turkish and Kurdish.

In his speech, Demirtas said Elci, 49, had dedicated his life to peace, freedoms, and brotherhood, and was the victim of a "political murder."

'Not our first martyr'

Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu condemned the attack, and said authorities were investigating whether the assailants aimed to target Elci, or whether he died in crossfire between the gunmen and police. Elci's supporters have blamed the state for his murder.

HDP's Demirtas, who says he himself has faced a number of death threats, told people at the funeral that he didn't expect the perpetrators to be found.

"Our scepticism is fair as so many similar sufferings have taken place on our land in the past," he said.

Elci's brother Ahmet said it was clear the lawyer had been the victim of a targeted killing.

"My brother is not our first martyr and neither will he be the last," he said at the funeral. "As a Kurdish intellectual he was slain by the state. We have seen this state murdering Kurdish intellectuals throughout the history. But we will not give up and we will win."

Peace advocate

Elci was a longtime campaigner for peace between the banned Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) and Turkey's security forces. He had been facing criminal charges and up to seven years in prison for saying the PKK was not a "terrorist" organization during a television appearance. He had, however, also been critical of the PKK's use of violence.

The predominantly-Kurdish Diyarbakir is the site of frequent clashes between the PKK's youth organization and police, particularly since the breakdown of a ceasefire in July. Around 40,000 people have been killed in the conflict over the past three decades.

nm/rc (AP, Reuters, AFP, dpa)

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