DIYARBAKIR, Turkey (AP) — Tens of thousands gathered Thursday for the funeral ceremony of three Kurdish activists who were shot dead in Paris in an attack many believe was an attempt to derail peace talks. Kurdish legislators, meanwhile, vowed to support peace efforts to end the decades-long conflict between Turkey and autonomy-seeking Kurdish rebels.
The three female activists, including Sakine Cansiz, a founding member of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, were slain last week at a time when Turkey is engaged in talks with the rebels’ jailed leader, Abdullah Ocalan, to persuade his group to disarm.
Up to 50,000 mourners assembled behind the victims’ coffins draped in the flags of the PKK at a square in the mainly Kurdish city of Diyarbakir for a funeral ceremony before separate burials set to take place in the victims’ hometowns Friday.
The chairman of the pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party, Selahattin Demirtas, told the crowd that the killings would not deter Kurds from seeking peace.
“We stand behind the talks being conducted by Mr. Ocalan,” Demirtas said. “The crowds gathered here is proof of this. Now is the time for peace.”
“The people here aren’t vowing revenge even while they are burying their own children,” he added.
The PKK has been fighting for self-rule for Kurds in a battle that has killed tens of thousands of people since the group took up arms in 1984. Turkey and its U.S. and European allies consider the PKK a terrorist organization.
Turkey announced last month that its intelligence agency had resumed talks with Ocalan, on the island off Istanbul where he is serving a life term since 1999, to try and end the conflict. The government has said, however, that its security forces would continue with its military drive against the PKK until the Kurdish rebels are no longer in a position to attack, even as it pressed ahead with the disarmament talks.
Turkish and Kurdish media reports said Turkey launched aerial attacks on suspected Kurdish rebel targets in cross-border raids in northern Iraq this week. The reports said the Turkish jets struck targets on Mount Qandil in northern Iraq.
Turkey doesn’t want to halt operations at the early stages of the peace talks, arguing that the PKK has in the past used lulls in fighting to recoup. But Kurdish politicians said the attacks would not help the peace dialogue.
“Oh Prime Minister! You are talking about peace, but you are bombing Qandil at a time when we are burying our three martyrs,” Kurdish legislator Ahmet Turk said. “How can you talk about peace and rain bombs on Kurds?”
The government had urged calm before the funerals, fearing that any major show of support for the PKK could then trigger a nationalist backlash in Turkey against any dialogue with Kurds.
Associated Press writers Suzan Fraser and Ezgi Akin in Ankara, Turkey, contributed to this report.
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