People gather at Diyarbakir airport on January 16, 2013 to welcome the coffins of three Kurdish activists killed in Paris
Thousands of people chant slogans outside the Diyarbakir airport on January 16, 2013 to welcome the coffins of the three female Kurdish activists who were killed in Paris last week. Several thousand Kurds gathered Thursday in a square in Diyarbakir, the main city of Turkey's Kurd-majority southeast, to pay a final tribute to the three. © Mehmet Engin - AFP
People gather at Diyarbakir airport on January 16, 2013 to welcome the coffins of three Kurdish activists killed in Paris
Last updated: January 17, 2013

Thousands gather for slain Kurds' funeral

Thousands of Kurds gathered Thursday in Turkey's southeastern city of Diyarbakir for the funeral of three female Kurdish activists shot dead in Paris last week.

The huge crowd, including women adorned in white scarves, a symbol of peace, marched in a procession that wound up peacefully after fears it could have turned into a violent protest.

A massive convoy followed on foot the hearses carrying the coffins, which were then hoisted onto platforms in a square on the outskirts of the city.

Tens of thousands more were expected to file past the coffins later to pay homage to the victims.

The three women, one of them Sakine Cansiz, a co-founder of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), were found shot execution-style at a Kurdish centre in Paris last week. French police are investigating the mysterious killings.

"Sakine was a historic figure of the movement (PKK)," said Ali Gokot, from the regional ranks of the pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party (BDP), which organised the funeral.

"Her death is very painful," he lamented, as women, standing at the front of the huge crowd, chanted: "Fighting makes you free!"

Many could also be heard shouting "revenge".

The portraits of the three women were placed in front of the coffins, draped in the red, yellow and green Kurdish flag and red carnations.

The bodies were brought back home late Wednesday, as thousands escorted them from Diyarbakir airport to a hospital morgue amid tightened security.

Turkish government leaders appealed for calm ahead of the planned ceremony as security forces were placed on high alert.

The Paris killings came amid nascent peace talks between Turkish secret services and jailed PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan with the aim of disarming the group branded as a terrorist organisation by Turkey and much of the international community.

The PKK took up arms for self-rule in the Kurdish-majority southeast in a conflict that has claimed 45,000 lives, mostly Kurds.

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has speculated the killings could be the result of an "internal feud" within the PKK aimed at sabotaging the talks, recalling that the separatist group has carried out similar executions in the past.

But he also said on Wednesday that "Our security forces will continue operations until the terrorist organisation lays down arms and ends its attacks."

A 22-year-old man who was among the huge crowd in Diyarbakir said he was sceptical of Erdogan's intentions to end the insurgency.

"Erdogan says he wants to make peace but at the same time he continues to kill combatants" of the PKK, he said angrily.

On Tuesday, Turkish jets pounded over 50 Kurdish rebel hideouts in northern Iraq, in one of the fiercest aerial campaigns in years targeting the PKK hideouts in the mountainous region.

Turkish officials did not provide casualty tallies.

The overnight operation killed seven people, according to BDP co-chairman Selahattin Demirtas, who said it was an indication that Erdogan was not committed to the peace process.

In an address to the crowd, he urged Kurds, who make up 20 percent of the 75-million Turkish population, to keep their "courage and patience" for an end to hostilities.

"Kurdish people demonstrated today their will for peace," the prominent lawmaker said, as the ceremony ended peacefully.

"The assassinations did not kill hopes for peace," said 45-year-old Cebri Hicyilmaz, wearing a white scarf he said was a "sign of peace."

A police helicopter flew over the funeral procession and riot police were also deployed.

The bodies will be sent for burial in nearby hometowns on Friday.

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