Ankara: A leading Kurdish lawyer was shot dead Saturday in southeast Turkey after unknown attackers opened fire on a gathering in the mainly Kurdish province of Diyarbakir, triggering a shootout with police, local officials and witnesses said.
The unknown assailants shot at Tahir Elci, head of the bar association in Diyarbakir, and 40 other activists as they were giving a press statement near a mosque in the city`s Sur district, according to witnesses.
The police immediately returned fire, they said.
Southeast Turkey has been rocked by a new wave of unrest that has left several hundred people dead since a two-year-old truce between Ankara and the Kurdistan Workers` Party (PKK) fell apart in July.
Elci, who had been detained in October for alleged "terrorist propaganda" on behalf of the PKK, died at the scene of gunshot wounds to his left eye, hospital sources told AFP.
Diyarbakir governor`s office said in a statement that one policeman was also killed and two police were injured in the shootout.
"Elci lost his life during clashes that erupted at the same location," the statement said.
A hunt for the attackers was under way while clashes were continuing throughout the Sur district, where authorities have declared a curfew, an AFP correspondent reported.
State-run Anatolia news agency claimed that members of the PKK were behind the incident, while the Dogan news agency, quoting witnesses, said a bearded man had opened fire on the group.
In video footage released by Dogan, a man hiding behind the minaret of the mosque is seen shooting at Elci, 49.
Since June there have been three deadly attacks on pro-Kurdish activists blamed on the Islamic State (IS), including the October 10 suicide bombings at a peace rally in Ankara that killed 103.Speaking after the incident in western Balikesir province, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said he was saddened by the death of Elci.
"This incident shows how Turkey is right in its determination in the fight against terrorism," he said.
Elci was released pending his trial over an interview in which he said the PKK, which has killed dozens of Turkish soldiers since the resumption of hostilities, was not a terrorist organisation.
"The PKK is a political movement which has important political demands and which enjoys widespread support, even if some of its actions are of a terrorist nature," he had told CNN Turk television, sparking anger.
He had risked up to seven years in prison.
The separatist PKK, which launched an uprising against the Turkish state in 1984, is considered a terrorist organisation by Turkey, the United States and the European Union.
The government began peace talks in 2012 with the imprisoned head of the PKK, Abdullah Ocalan, but the negotiations fell through in the run-up to the general election in June.
Ankara unleashed a new air war against PKK rebels following a wave of attacks blamed on the group, destroying a 2013 truce and hopes of fresh talks to end a conflict that has claimed 45,000 lives since 1984.
Since then, Kurdish fighters have staged almost daily attacks against members of the security forces, killing more than 150 Turkish police and soldiers.
Kurds accuse he government of collaborating with the IS group, but Ankara denies the charges and has recently stepped up raids against IS suspects.