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Turkey Detains 5 More in Christian Missionary Slaying


Police in Turkey have detained five more suspects in connection with an attack against a Christian publishing house in the conservative eastern city of Malatya. Three employees were killed Wednesday by knife-wielding assailants, who reportedly said they were acting to protect Islam. From Istanbul, Amberin Zaman reports for the VOA.

Governor Halil Ibrahim Dasoz says police have arrested five more suspects, doubling the number of people detained in connection with the attack on the Zirve publishing house. The publisher distributes bibles and publishes Christian material.

Dasoz told reporters that no links have been established between the alleged killers and illegal Islamic groups. The three victims, two Turkish citizens who were converts to Christianity and a German Protestant, were found bound to chairs with their throats slit.

Turkish media said the suspects were mainly students who lived at a hostel run by an Islamic foundation.

Wednesday's killings drew sharp protests from EU governments that have long criticized Turkey over discrimination against non-Muslim and non-Turkish minorities.

Last year, an Italian Catholic priest was shot dead by an ultra-nationalist teenager in the Black Sea city of Trabzon. In January, an ethnic-Armenian news editor, Hrant Dink, was gunned down by a teenager in Istanbul, raising fears of a concerted campaign against the country's tiny Christian community.

The Chairman of Turkey's Protestant Churches' Union, Bedri Peker, told a news conference anti-Christian sentiment has been fostered by Turkey's nationalist education system and encouraged by politicians and the media.

Peker added that Turkey's Christians have the right to worship freely and spread their faith through peaceful means, but they are regarded as what he called "spies and enemies of the state."

Ihsan Ozbek, the pastor of the Ankara-based Kurtulus Church that has received many anonymous threats, told VOA in a telephone interview that he blames the murders on a climate of intolerance towards Christians. He added that no government official outside Malatya has contacted church officials to offer condolences.

Turkey's government, led by Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, a former Islamist, has expressed concern over the spread of Christian missionary activity in Turkey. Mehmet Aydin, minister of state in charge of religious affairs, has called missionaries "separatist and destructive."

There are mounting worries among pro-secular Turks that Mr. Erdogan will make a bid for the presidency when the incumbent Ahmet Necdet Sezer steps down in May. Throughout his seven-year term, Mr Sezer, a former judge, blocked government moves he viewed as a threat to the secular tenets laid down by the founder of modern Turkey, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk.

Mr. Erdogan has not yet announced his intentions, but he has pledged to remain faithful to Ataturk's legacy.

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