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Sunday, January 08, 2006

Man who shot Pope John Paul to leave jail

ANKARA (Reuters) - Mehmet Ali Agca, the man who shot and seriously wounded Pope John Paul II in 1981, will be freed from prison this month, the Anatolian state news agency said on Sunday.

Agca served 19 years in Italy for the assassination attempt before being pardoned at the Pope's behest in 2000. He was then extradited to Turkey to serve a separate sentence in an Istanbul jail for robbery and murder.

"Agca is expected to be released between January 10 and January 15," Anatolian said, adding that he may then be required, like all Turkish men, to perform his military service.

In a short statement, the Vatican said it had only learned of Agca's release from news agencies.

"The Holy See, faced by a problem of a judicial nature, leaves the decision in the hands of the courts involved in this affair," the statement added.

Over the years, Agca gave conflicting reasons for his attempt on the late pope's life, including allegations of a conspiracy with Bulgaria's communist-era secret services and the Soviet KGB -- claims Bulgaria always strongly denied.

Agca belonged to a right-wing militant faction in Turkey in the late 1970s and was sentenced to prison for the murder of a liberal newspaper editor in 1979.

He then escaped from jail with suspected help from right-wing sympathizers in the Turkish security apparatus. Turkish authorities have always denied any connection with Agca and have dismissed him as mentally unstable.

Pope John Paul, who forgave his would-be killer two years after the shooting, died last year. Prison authorities refused a request from Agca to attend the pontiff's funeral.

Pope Benedict XVI, John Paul's successor, is expected to pay an official visit to mainly Muslim Turkey in November

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