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AFP
An unidentified gunman fired a shot in the air outside an Armenian church in Istanbul Sunday shortly after a ceremony for the slain Turkish-Armenian journalist Hrant Dink, a church official said.

The gunman and another person fled on foot from the courtyard of the church in Kumkapi district where a ceremony had been held for Dink, the official told journalists on condition of anonymity. "We chased them down the street but were unable to catch them," he said.

The ceremony at the church in the European side of Istanbul was to mark the 40th day since Dink, the 52-year-old ethnic Armenian editor of the bilingual Agos weekly, was shot dead outside his office. It was led by Patriarch Mesrob II, the spiritual leader of Turkey's 80,000 Armenians, and attended by Dink's family and leading intellectuals.

Dink had won the wrath of nationalist circles and the courts for describing as genocide the World War I massacres of Armenians under the Ottoman Empire, a label that Ankara fiercely rejects. Nine people have so far been charged over his murder which prosecutors believe was the work of ultranationalists.

Meanwhile, a row erupted in Switzerland on Monday after Turkey's justice minister and his Swiss counterpart met just days before a leading Turkish militant goes on trial here charged with denial of genocide. Swiss Justice Minister Christoph Blocher met his Turkish colleague Cemil Cicek in Switzerland on Friday and Saturday following a Swiss invitation.

"It's a scandal," Ueli Leuenberger, a Green Party parliamentarian told the Swiss daily Tages-Anzeiger, while a Christian Democrat counterpart on the Swiss-Armenia parliamentary group, Dominique de Buman, dubbed the visit a "provocation".

The meeting occurred just a day before Dogu Perincek, head of the Turkish Workers' Party, flew into Switzerland to faces charges under Swiss law after he called the “genocide" of Armenians in 1915 an "international lie" during Turkish rallies in the city of Lausanne two years ago. The Swiss lower house of parliament recognized the massacre as genocide in December 2003 and the issue has sporadically soured Turkish Swiss relations.

The meeting between Cicek and Blocher has taken on added resonance because of the right-wing Swiss minister's controversial comments on anti-racism laws during a visit to Turkey last October. He suggested that the Swiss law, which refers to "grossly minimizing or justifying genocide," should be changed. Perincek is facing charges under that law.

Blocher's stance was also at odds with cabinet colleagues in the four-party government and earned an informal rebuke from legal circles.

The Swiss justice ministry said in a statement that Blocher had extended the invitation to Cicek in October, to help "consolidate bilateral relations, which were particularly intense during the first half of the 20th century." Ministry spokesman Livio Zanolari told AFP that Perincek's trial "was not a subject of discussion," and emphasized the separation of powers between the government and the Swiss judiciary.

Swiss newspapers on Monday criticized the timing of the meeting.
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