DIYARBAKIR, Turkey (Reuters) - Thousands poured onto the streets of Turkey’s main Kurdish city of Diyarbakir on Thursday for the funeral of three Kurdish activists killed in Paris, chanting pro-militant slogans as their coffins passed through the crowds.
The three women, including a co-founder of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), were killed in execution-style shootings in the French capital last week in what many saw as an attempt to derail a nascent peace process between the Turkish state and the guerrillas.
The prospect of an end to three decades of war between the Turkish state and the PKK has gained momentum in recent weeks after the government acknowledged it was talking to jailed PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan.
Thousands of cheering supporters were at Diyarbakir airport late on Wednesday as the bodies of PKK member Sakine Cansiz and the two other activists arrived amid tight security.
More than 10,000 gathered early on Thursday in Diyarbakir’s Baglar district, a PKK stronghold, as the coffins draped in green cloth and decorated with red carnations were driven slowly through the crowds.
“The martyrs’ path is our path. PKK is our party! Long live leader Apo”, they chanted, referring to Ocalan, who has been jailed on an island south of Istanbul since his capture in 1999.
Headscarved women and children applauded and waved, while others made a victory sign with their fingers from the windows of apartment blocks. Two young men, their faces concealed by scarves, held aloft the green, red and yellow flag of the PKK.
Many shops in the city were closed in mourning.
“Planes still take off and bomb the mountains and kill our youths. How can they talk about peace?” said Makbule, a 46-year-old homemaker whose son joined the PKK three years ago.
“These women dedicated their lives to the Turkish people. We have no confidence in Turkey,” said another homemaker, Gulistan.
The coffins arrived at a parade ground in the city where a funeral ceremony was to take place before the bodies are flown for burial in the women’s hometowns.
Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan has urged calm at the funeral proceedings and has warned security forces would be “sensitive and vigilant” to any provocation or unrest.
There was no sign of any violence as the coffins were driven through the city of 1.5 million people.
Erdogan, under pressure to bring an end to the violence, has said his government’s renewed peace efforts are sincere but has also maintained Ankara’s hard-line approach to a conflict that has burned at the heart of Turkey for almost 30 years.
The country is still reeling from one of the most violent summers since Ocalan was jailed.
Turkish warplanes bombed PKK targets in northern Iraq this week, according to media reports, in the first such raids since details of the talks with Ocalan emerged.
More than 40,000 people - mostly Kurds - have been killed since the PKK, designated a terrorist group by Turkey, the United States and the European Union, took up arms in 1984.
The nascent peace talks were overshadowed last week by the Paris killings, which Erdogan has suggested could be the result of an internal feud in the PKK or a bid to spoil the talks.
The PKK blamed shadowy elements within the Turkish state or foreign powers and Ocalan issued a call through his brother on Monday for French police to solve the murders. He gave no indication their killing would disrupt the peace talks.
Writing by Jonathon Burch; Editing by Tom Pfeiffer