Turkey's justice minister has called for a "serious" probe into claims that security forces were involved in the murder last year of ethnic Armenian journalist Hrant Dink.
"Certain members of the security forces are said to be linked to this murder," Justice Minister Mehmet Ali Sahin said in an interview published Monday in the daily Sabah. "Every allegation must be considered a tip-off and seriously investigated," he said.
Thousands marked the first anniversary of Dink's assassination on Saturday with protestors accusing the authorities of ignoring the alleged protection the suspected gunman and his associates received from the police.
"If what they (the police) did was a crime, they must be definitely punished," the minister said.
Dink's murder prompted fresh calls for the elimination of the "deep state" -- a term used to describe security forces acting outside the law to preserve what they consider Turkey's best interests. Lawyers for Dink's family say the police withheld and destroyed evidence to cover up the murder, including footage from a bank security camera in downtown Istanbul near where Dink was gunned down on January 19, 2007.
The charge sheet says police received intelligence as early as 2006 of a plot to kill Dink organized in the northern city of Trabzon, home of self-confessed gunman Ogun Samast, 17, and most of his 18 alleged accomplices currently on trial. A taped telephone conversation between a policeman and a suspect shortly after the killing suggests the officer knew of the plot in advance. The tape, leaked to the media last year, includes degrading comments about Dink.
Dink, 52, campaigned for reconciliation between Turks and Armenians, but nationalists hated him for insisting the World War I massacres of Armenians under Ottoman rule was an act of genocide -- a label Ankara fiercely rejects. Only four members of the security forces have been indicted in connection with the murder, but face minor charges unrelated to the killing itself.
Sahin also said a draft proposal to amend the controversial Article 301 of the Turkish penal code under which Dink was given a suspended six-month jail sentence for "denigrating Turkishness" would be submitted to parliament in the coming days. The law has been criticized as a threat to freedom of speech in Turkey, which is engaged in membership talks with the European Union.
Police said that around 8,000 people had gathered Saturday outside the central Istanbul offices of the bilingual Turkish Armenian weekly set up by Dink in 1996. With black and red banners carrying messages such as "We are all Armenians", those present included members of his family, personal friends, journalists, human rights campaigners and also ordinary members of the public.
"I am here because we have lost one of Turkey's most beautiful souls," said 47-year-old shopkeeper Mehmet Calik. "He was killed because he was Armenian but also because he spoke the language of truth. We are here to carry on his struggle."
Turkish newspapers on Saturday were unanimous in calling for the authorities to "shed all possible light" on the assassination. "A year after his death, scandals and dozens of questions remain unanswered," the daily Milliyet said on its front page, noting that "justice hasn't moved forward an inch" in shedding light on the affair.