Judge tells Ankara to decide on fate of leading author

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The trial of one of the world's leading novelists, Orhan Pamuk, Turkey's most important free-speech test case for years, was adjourned for seven weeks yesterday.

Amid scenes of mayhem and abuse at an Istanbul courthouse, the case was put back to February 7, while the Turkish government was handed the hot political potato of deciding whether to prosecute the author or drop the case.

Armed riot police in body armour and white helmets thronged the narrow corridors of the Sisli district criminal court, but did little to maintain order as protesters from the hard left and the far right hurled abuse at Pamuk and his supporters, attacked his car, and punched and kicked human rights observers.

Pamuk, 53, who is accused of "denigrating Turkishness" for stating that 30,000 people have died in Turkey's Kurdish conflict and that a million Armenians were killed in Turkey during the first world war, must return to court in February unless the government decides to drop the case, the judge ordered.

The author of the novels Snow and My Name Is Red, who is widely regarded as a Nobel laureate contender, stood silent in a dark suit and white shirt for 45 minutes in a packed court. Judge Metin Aydin struggled to maintain order amid arguments between Pamuk's defence team and a group of rightwing lawyers who claimed their Turkishness had been impugned by Pamuk's remarks in a Swiss newspaper interview earlier this year.

The defence demanded an instant dismissal of the case. The prosecution demanded instant pursuit of it. The judge played for time and shifted the onus of decision-taking to the government.

Pamuk voiced dismay that his ordeal was not over. "It is not good for Turkey, for our democracy, for such freedom-of-expression cases to be prolonged," he said in a statement. But the government made plain it was in no hurry to close the case.

Outside, nationalists screamed "traitor" at Pamuk, and scuffles broke out. Protesters pelted his car with eggs and assaulted his supporters.

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