A sixth suspect was jailed and two senior regional officials were removed from office Friday as Turkish authorities expanded their investigation into the murder of ethnic Armenian journalist Hrant Dink.
A court in Istanbul charged university student Erhan Tuncel with instigating the murder, bringing to six the number of suspects held over the January 19 killing, the Anatolia news agency reported. Tuncel, who was close to an ultra-nationalist group, allegedly agitated young people in the northern city of Trabzon, where the suspected assailant, 17-year-old Ogun Samast, comes from.
The government meanwhile removed the governor and the police chief of Trabzon from their positions, an interior ministry spokeswoman told AFP.
The city, a nationalist stronghold, has come under the spotlight with a series of violent incidents, including the murder of an Italian Catholic priest and the near lynching of five leftist activists mistaken for Kurdish separatists last year. Critics say the Trabzon authorities failed to investigate seriously the groups of rogue youths under the sway of local nationalist and anti-Christian hardliners following the murder of Father Andrea Santoro, who was gunned down last February by a 16-year-old boy while praying in his church.
On Wednesday Samast, a jobless secondary school graduate, and four other suspects were charged in connection with Dink's murder and jailed pending trial. A second suspect who appeared before court on Friday -- a teenager who allegedly sent an e-mail to Samast congratulating him for Dink's murder -- was released.
The investigation so far has suggested that the suspects, all of them young people, did not belong to any known underground organization but wanted to take action on their own against what they saw as rising threats to Turkey's unity.
Dink, editor of the bilingual Turkish-Armenian weekly “Agos” and one of Turkey's most prominent ethnic Armenians, was branded a "traitor" by nationalists for urging open debate on the massacres of Armenians under the Ottoman Empire -- a taboo topic until recently -- which he labeled as genocide. He was last year given a six-month suspended sentence for insulting "Turkishness".
One of the key suspects jailed Wednesday, Yasin Hayal, 26, is believed to have frequently met with Tuncel and allegedly gave Samast money and a gun to kill Dink. Hayal served 11 months in jail over a 2004 bomb blast outside a McDonald's restaurant in Trabzon.
The interior ministry announced Friday that it was also sending two senior inspectors to Trabzon to investigate whether the city's administrators and security forces were responsible for "any faults or negligence" in the string of violent incidents there.
The murder of Dink, shot three times from behind outside the “Agos” office in downtown Istanbul, has sparked a heated debate over rising nationalism in Turkey, a candidate for EU membership, and the government has come under fire for failing to protect free speech. Despite the controversies, Dink had won respect as a sincere campaigner for Turkish-Armenian reconciliation and was critical of Armenian fanaticism.
Some 100,000 protestors marched at his funeral Tuesday in one of the largest public gatherings in Istanbul in recent years, brandishing banners that read "We are all Armenians."
(GI-Photolur photo: Protesters march through the streets to the “Agos” offices .)