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Mourners in Turkey protest killings of Kurdish activists

By Ivan Watson and Gul Tuysuz, CNN
updated 11:21 PM EST, Thu January 17, 2013
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Three Kurdish political activists were killed execution-style in France, authorities say
  • The bodies of the women were repatriated to Turkey for burial
  • Among the dead was Sakine Cansiz, a co-founder of Kurdish rebel group PKK

Diyarbakir, Turkey (CNN) -- Thousands took to the streets Thursday in the predominantly Kurdish city of Diyarbakir, Turkey, to mourn three political activists killed last week in execution-style shootings in France.

The women were saluted as the "three flowers of Kurdistan" by a mourner using a sound system atop a bus, while some carried portraits of the victims or signs reading "Sakine Cansiz is immortal."

Read more: Kurds rally in Paris over murder of 3 women activists

Cansiz, one of the three killed, was one of the co-founders of the Kurdistan Workers Party or PKK, a Kurdish rebel group that has waged a guerrilla war against the Turkish state since 1984.

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Also killed were Leyla Sonmez and Fidan Dogan. French authorities said the bodies of the three women were discovered in the Information Center of Kurdistan in Paris. No arrests have been made in their deaths so far.

Read more: How Paris killings could renew Kurdish flashpoint

Many in Turkey fear that the triple killings could derail delicate peace talks between the Turkish government and the PKK. More than 40,000 people have been killed in the nearly 30-year conflict.

Turkey, the United States and the European Union have labeled the PKK a terrorist organization.

Read more: Turkey police crack down on Kurds

Kurdish activists accuse the Turkish government of decades of discriminatory policies against the country's largest ethnic group. Turkish security forces have arrested thousands of Kurds in recent years on suspicion of terrorist activities.

Last fall, the Turkish government initiated a new attempt at dialogue with Abdullah Ocalan, the PKK leader serving a life sentence in a prison on the Turkish island of Imrali.

Read more: Report says Turkey's Kurdish conflict has turned more violent

In what appeared to be a sign of good will, Turkish authorities allowed the bodies of the three women, all Turkish citizens, to be repatriated from France.

Brigades of Turkish riot police armed with machine guns and gas masks fanned out across the grounds Thursday where mourners were gathered, even as Kurdish politicians denounced Turkey's prime minister and some carried portraits of Ocalan.

Kurdish leaders said they, too, were working to reduce tensions in the wake of the killings.

"Here the people of of Kurdistan, by claiming ownership of these three revolutionary women, are showing that they will not fall prey to provocation," said Sebahat Tuncel, a member of Turkey's parliament from the pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party.

"We showed our attitude beyond any doubt, that we are for peace, for freedom, and for a democratic and peaceful resolution of the Kurdish issue."

In recent days, the Turkish military bombed suspected PKK camps in the Qandil Mountains of northern Iraq. On Wednesday, a Turkish police officer was killed in "an armed attack on a police car," according to the office of the governor of the southeastern province of Mardin.

"They say peace on the one hand, but then they bomb Qandil. In short, we have no trust left in the prime minister," said a middle-aged Kurdish man attending Thursday's funeral demonstration. The man asked not to be identified for security reasons.

"The peace process has already been stalled. It didn't even begin."

The atmosphere in Diyarbakir was subdued Thursday, with nearly every shop shuttered, in a citywide shutdown coinciding with the funeral demonstration.

Kurdish politicians from the BDP told CNN they would accompany the bodies of the three murdered women to their hometowns of Maras, Tunceli, and Adana for burial later this week.

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