01/14/2006, 00.00
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Turks decry Ali Agca's release as "day of shame"

by Mavi Zambak

For many citizens he is "an old wolf disguised as a lamb", a symbol of one the country's more violent eras. His release is the fruit of urging by ultra-nationalist spheres and secret services.

Ankara (AsiaNews) – Now that the four days dedicated to the religious Feast of Sacrifice are over, Turkish television stations and newspapers have gone all out to cover what at first seemed to be a news item of little importance: the release of Mehmet Alì Agca, born on 9 January 1958 in Yesiltepe, in Turckey, Malatya province, on the border with Kurdistan, notorious in Italy and the rest of the world as the perpetrator of the attempted murder of Pope John Paul II in 1981.

On television there are debates late into the night and dossiers to get to know the true identity of this Gray Wolf. If many wonder who was behind the terrible episode in May 1981, it is even more worrying that the murderer of the famous Turkish journalist, Abdi Ipekçi, could ever have been released. Agca had already been condemned to death for this homicide in 1980, a sentence later commuted to life imprisonment.

Agca, a militant of a extreme-right terrorist organization, the "Gray Wolves", killed Abdi Ipekçi – chief editor of the liberal daily newspaper Milliyet – on 1 February 1979. Agca was convicted, but on 25 November 1979, he managed to escape from Kartal Maltepe maximum security prison.

After his attempt on the life of Pope John Paul II, Agca was imprisoned in Italy. But in June 2001, the President of the Italian Republic, Ciampi, gave him a pardon and so he was transferred to Turkey and once again shut in the maximum security prison to serve his sentence for the journalist's murder.

In prison, he wrote an autobiographical book called "My truth": a book which struck and moved the Turkish population because of Agca's affirmations of faith, in which appeals for pardon alternate with prophetic stances, claims to be the new Messiah, the reincarnation of Jesus Christ. To this day, many think he converted and became a Christian. Then Ali Agca was shrouded in silence, until he made a triumphant comeback to the headlines with the decision of his early release.

On Friday, the media, out of solidarity with Ipekçi, roundly denounced the release of the murderer and practically all national Turkish dailies joined in horrified chorus: "The murderer is among us" and "Today is our day of shame".

"Agca ruined Turkey's image," said Ilnur Cevik, columnist of the English language daily, The New Anatolian, who fears the man will now become a recognised and accepted celebrity. "We must how that we will never accept Agca in our society," he added with scorn.

"I think he should not have been released. He is a murderer, all he will do is go back to his habits," said Mehmet Ozcan, a chancellor in Ankara. He is practically saying: be careful, the wolf sheds its skin but not its vices.

As he left prison in Istanbul, a dozen or so ultra-nationalist militants showed Agca their support, unfurling a large Turkish flag outside the military recruitment centre where he was taken and throwing flowers on his car to celebrate his release. Meanwhile, hundreds of militants from the left displayed their anger during another leg of his journey through the streets of Istanbul, displaying placards with photos of victims of extreme right fanaticism.

Officially, the early release of the murderer has been put down to his good conduct. When Agca was extradited to Italy in 2000, the Turkish Justice Minister, Hikmet Sami Turki, said his release was linked to the still strong influence of ultra-nationalist elements within the State system.

"Unfortunately, it is a possibility which cannot be excluded," he said, recalling that Agca's escape from prison in 1979 was certainly due to the complicity of his companions from the extreme-right; Agca had worn a military uniform.

So why the hurry to release this murderer now? He should have spent at least 36 years inside and instead they were reduced only five and a half.

The current Justice Minister himself, Cemil Cicek, reinforced the general feeling of discomfort and doubt when he said a few hours after Agca's release: "I'm not saying the release is wrong, but I think it could turn out to be a mistake". As if this were not enough – when before he had kept silent – now, buoyed by the public opinion backing him, he says he will reopen the case, contesting the decision in the Cassation Court.

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Erdogan yesterday was in Trabzon to celebrate the Feast of Sacrifice. While he was in a city restaurant with his wife Emine and members of his AKP party, some journalists asked him to comment about the release of Ali Agca. He simply responded with a vague: "An evaluation will be done at the opportune time".

Television debates are marked by fear and suspicion that behind all this is the hand of secret services far more powerful than the government decision. But to what end?

One thing for certain is that people are truly starting to worry: this Old Wolf, who has long worn the guise of a lamb, is on parole. He should have reported to the police chief in his district yesterday afternoon to sign in, but it seems he has already vanished into thin air.

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