By Ayla Jean Yackley
ISTANBUL (Reuters) - Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan on Saturday demanded French President Francois Hollande explain why he had met one of three Kurdish militants shot dead in Paris this week.
The execution-style killings at an institute in central Paris on Thursday cast a shadow on a new initiative by Erdogan's government to launch a peace process to end a 28-year-old insurgency by the Kurdistan Workers Party's (PKK) that has claimed more than 40,000 lives.
Hollande told reporters he and other politicians knew one of the three women, who all had ties to the PKK.
"How can you routinely meet with members of an organization labeled a terrorist group by the European Union and being sought by Interpol? What kind of politics is this?" Erdogan said in a speech to a business group broadcast live by CNN Turk.
"The French president should immediately disclose to the public why he met with members of this terrorist organization, what was discussed, to what end he was in communication with these terrorists," Erdogan said, adding that Turkey would pursue unspecified legal measures on the matter.
Among the murdered was Sakine Cansiz, a founding member of the PKK well-known to Kurdish nationalists and who was believed to be a key financier in Europe for the group, mainly based in northern Iraq.
Speaking to reporters on Thursday, Hollande said one of the women "was known to me and to many politicians because she came to meet us regularly."
Erdogan said the killings may be the result of PKK infighting or an attempt to derail Turkey's efforts to end the Kurdish conflict, which has implications for Syria, Iran and Iraq with their ethnic Kurdish minorities.
"The killings in Paris may have been an attempt aimed at sabotaging this initiative. It may also be score-settling within the ranks of the separatist terrorist group," he said.
He rejected allegations by Kurdish rebels and activists that elements from the Turkish state were behind the killings and demanded French authorities apprehend those behind the attack and shed light on the incident at once.
French investigators gave no immediate indication as to who might be responsible.
Erdogan pledged to continue efforts to end the conflict.
Since his party came to power in 2002, it has expanded political and cultural rights for Turkey's estimated 15 million Kurds to create a basis for ending a war that has held back the country's economic and democratic progress.
But Kurdish politicians and activists also accuse Erdogan of escalating tensions through the arrests and trials of thousands of Kurdish journalists, lawyers and others who have sought a civilian, non-violent resolution of the conflict.
He has also stepped up military attacks on the PKK, including land and air incursions into Iraq to target rebels in their mountain hideouts.
(Reporting by Ayla Jean Yackley; editing by Andrew Roche and Jason Webb)