Turkish court upholds sentence for priest's killer

Ankara, Turkey - Turkey's court of appeals on Thursday upheld a jail sentence of nearly 19 years for the teenage killer of an Italian Catholic priest, the state Anatolian news agency said.

The shooting of Father Andrea Santoro, 61, while praying in his church in the Black Sea city of Trabzon in February 2006 shocked the Muslim nation and drew calls from the European Union for greater religious tolerance in Turkey.

A year ago, a Trabzon court found the boy guilty of premeditated murder, illegal possession of a firearm and endangering public security. His family appealed against the jail sentence.

The Ankara appeals court confirmed the sentence of 18 years and 10 months on the boy, who as a minor has not been named.

Witnesses say the boy, then aged 16, shouted "Allahu Akbar" ("God is greatest") before shooting the priest dead.

Turkey's government, which has Islamist roots, strongly condemned the shooting, which coincided with increased religious tensions worldwide after the publication of cartoons lampooning Islam's Prophet Mohammad in Danish newspapers.

Pope Benedict, who visited Turkey last November, paid personal tribute to Santoro at a mass in the Vatican.

Some EU politicians said the case showed Turkey must do more to protect Christian priests and missionaries in the country.

In April this year assailants slit the throats of three people at a Bible publishing house in the eastern town of Malatya. Their trial is continuing.

Addressing the Council of Europe in Strasbourg, France, President Abdullah Gul said on Wednesday Christians could practise their faith freely and in safety in Turkey.