The incident drew some 2,000 protesters to Taksim Square where police had to use tear gas and water cannon to disperse them.
Protesters grew more and more angry with the police who were “being incredibly heavy-handed,” RT’s reporter William Whiteman reported from the scene, adding that people were chanting slogans accusing President Erdogan of being a “thief” and a “killer.”
Helicopters were flying low over the area, and the “violent” protests were continuing into the night.
A campaigner for Kurdish rights, Elci had been criticized for challenging Turkey’s official stance of calling the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) a terrorist organization.
After making comments about PKK on CNN Turk TV in October, Elci was detained. He was subsequently released and was awaiting trial.
The killing took place while Elci was making a statement to the media. According to the state Anadolu news agency, it was Kurdish insurgents who opened fire, killing Elci, as well as a police officer, and injuring three other people, among them correspondents of the leading Turkish media organizations – the Anatolia and Dogan news agencies.
Elci studied law in Europe and took part in many high profile cases in the Turkish courts. The lawyer was among the founding members of many human rights and non-governmental organizations.
“The moment the statement ended, the crowd was sprayed with bullets,” Reuters cited Omer Tastan, a local official from the pro-Kurdish HDP party, as saying.
“A single bullet struck Elci in the head,” Tastan said, adding 11 people were also wounded in the incident.
Dogan News Agency recorded a video of the incident, showing a group of gunmen hiding behind the minaret of a nearby mosque close to where Elci was making his statement.
When he finished speaking, the group opened fire at the lawyer and people standing beside him.
“A person ran towards Elci, fired and then started to run away,” Dogan news agency’s reporter Felat Bozarslan recalls.
Emma Sinclair-Webb, senior researcher at US-based Human Rights Watch, said: “This is a very dark day for Turkey – the murder of Tahir Elci is a devastating blow not only to human rights activists but to all who want to see justice and rule of law prevail in Turkey.”
The PKK demands greater autonomy for Turkey’s Kurds and is classified as a terrorist organization in Turkey and the US.
After the ceasefire agreement between the PKK and Turkish security forces ended in July, hundreds of people were killed in terror acts and clashes in addition to the estimated 40,000 who have died since the Kurds started their armed struggle for autonomy in 1984.