Turkish opposition says police bullet may have killed Kurdish lawyer

Reuters News
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Posted: Nov 30, 2015 10:12 AM

By Daren Butler

ISTANBUL (Reuters) - A prominent Kurdish lawyer gunned down in southeastern Turkey appeared to have been shot by a policeman who was firing on suspects fleeing the scene of an attack on fellow officers, a deputy from Turkey's pro-Kurdish opposition said on Monday.

Diyarbakir city chief prosecutor Ramazan Solmaz said prosecutors and police forensic teams working at the site of Elci's killing were forced to flee on Monday when militants opened fire and threw explosives at an armored police vehicle.

Saturday's killing of Tahir Elci, a lawyer and human rights activist, and Monday's brief incident underlined tensions in the mostly Kurdish region that have grown since a ceasefire with Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) militants collapsed in July.

Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu has said Elci may have been caught in the crossfire between police and the militants.

Meral Danis Bestas, a deputy for the pro-Kurdish Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP), sent an email to the interior minister after viewing a video of the incident which took place in a narrow street during a shootout between police and militants.

In the video, plain-clothes police standing near Elci are seen firing automatic pistols at gunmen fleeing the scene of the attack in Diyarbakir, the region's largest city.

ATTACK ON POLICE

"The footage shows a figure running in the direction of Tahir Elci and the police opening fire in the direction of that person," Bestas wrote. "A plain-clothes policeman dressed in brown is shown opening fire in the direction of Tahir Elci and then he looks as if to see whether the cameras are filming him."

"The autopsy report and the camera footage point to Elci dying as a result of a police bullet," Bestas said.

Shortly before Elci's killing, two police officers were shot dead after they stopped a "suspicious vehicle" in a nearby street in what Solmaz, the chief prosecutor, said was an attack by PKK militants.

President Tayyip Erdogan, who founded the governing AK Party, has vowed to destroy Kurdish militant fighters since a ceasefire collapsed in July, reigniting a conflict in which some 40,000 people have died since it began in 1984.

The HDP, which is represented in parliament and has called for an end to the violence, said Elci had complained of death threats.

"Tahir Elci...was the target of some deep structures which are known to have carried out unsolved killings and which today give open support to the AKP government," it said.

Unsolved political killings were frequent at the height of the conflict between the state and the PKK in the 1990s.

Elci was facing trial for saying the banned PKK was not a terrorist organization, as it is described by Turkey, the European Union and United States. But he had also condemned PKK violence.

The autopsy showed one bullet had penetrated the back of Elci's neck. The driver of the taxi in which the suspects arrived at the scene was detained and an arrest warrant was issued for one identified suspect, the prosecutor said.

(Editing by Nick Tattersall)