The trial of internationally acclaimed novelist Orhan Pamuk on charges of insulting the national identity was suspended Friday. The ruling judge said the court prosecuting the award-winning novelist required approval from the Ministry of Justice in order to proceed. The tense and occasionally violent trial has been harshly criticized by western governments.

It was in the words of Camiel Eurling, a European Parliament lawmaker who attended the trial, "a dark day for Turkey".

Like many European Union observers who came to show support for Orhan Pamuk, Mr. Eurling said he had expected the presiding judge to dismiss the case against Turkey's best known writer and thereby end the damage it has caused worldwide to Turkey as it seeks membership of the European Union.

Instead, presiding judge Metin Aydin agreed to prosecution demands that the trial be suspended until the Ministry of Justice delivered its opinion on the case which has been mired in legal ambiguity. The next hearing was set for February 7, and Justice Minister Cemil Cicek lauded the court for its decision, though he declined to comment on when he would deliver an opinion.

Mr. Pamuk is facing up to three years in prison for insulting the Turkish identity in remarks he made to a Swiss newspaper in February. Mr. Pamuk said 30,000 Kurds and one million Armenians were killed in Turkey and no one dares talk about it. His comments referred to the Turkish army's brutal suppression of a Kurdish separatist rebellion over the past decades and to the mass slaughter of Armenians by Ottoman forces between 1915 and 1917.

The issues are among the most sensitive in modern Turkey and Mr. Pamuk's words triggered fury among millions of Turks. That anger was in evidence Friday, as ultra-nationalist demonstrators booed Mr. Pamuk and pelted him with eggs as he made his way out of the courtroom. Inside the courtroom, Mr. Eurling told VOA that Mr. Pamuk had been harassed by prosecution lawyers. Dennis McShane, a British lawmaker was punched in the face.

EU diplomats at the hearing said they were not surprised by the reaction of demonstrators. The officials said it was the reaction of the government that surprised and disappointed them. And they warn, should Turkey fail to remove laws that enable conservative judges to prosecute free speech in the near future, negotiations with the European Union may be interrupted.