Pro-Kurdish Lawyer Killed in Clashes in Southeastern Turkey

  • Tahir Elci shot in clashes between security forces, militants
  • Police officer killed, three others were hurt in attack

The head of the Diyarbakir Bar Association was shot and killed by unknown assailants in the Turkish city of Diyarbakir, a sign that security has deteriorated in the country’s southeast since elections this month.

Tahir Elci, 49, a frequent guest on political talk shows, died early Saturday in clashes that erupted between security forces and militants while he was speaking at a press conference, according to Minister of Interior Efkan Ala. Both the Diyarbakir Bar and Pro-Kurdish HDP party called the attack an assassination.

One police officer was killed and three others were wounded in the attack, state-run Anadolu Agency reported. Turkey declared a curfew in Diyarbakir’s Sur district after the clashes broke out, according to Hurriyet newspaper.

The killing is the latest sign of the precarious security situation in Turkey’s southeast after peace talks collapsed between the government and the PKK, which seeks autonomy for the country’s ethnic Kurds. The Ak Party’s landslide victory on Nov. 1 ended months of political deadlock.

The government will investigate to see if the attack was an assassination, Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said in televised remarks in Ankara. “Whoever may have done this, the target is clear. The target is not just Mr. Tahir Elci, the target is Turkey,” he said.

A preliminary autopsy showed a single bullet struck Elci in the back of his neck, Anadolu Agency reported.

Elci was the president of the Diyarbakir Bar Association and a human rights activist who was a regular guest on national political talk shows. He was detained in October for saying that the PKK was not a terrorist organization and then released pending trial. The PKK is considered a terrorist organization by the U.S., European Union and Turkey.

Four inspectors have been assigned to the Elci case, according to a text message from a Turkish government official.

The official, who declined to be identified discussing a pending investigation, said it’s possible Elci was caught in the crossfire, but authorities haven’t ruled out the possibility that he was targeted.

The Diyarbakir chief prosecutor and his delegation were fired at while conducting an investigation and two police officers were wounded, Hurriyet newspaper reported.

Police also used tear gas and water canons against protesters in Diyarbakir and Istanbul who took to the streets after the killing, Hurriyet reported.

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