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Pope gunman could be released early

Mehmet Ali Agca, the Turk who shot Pope John Paul II, could serve seven years in prison instead of 17 after Turkey's highest court extended the scope of an amnesty for prisoners, his lawyer said on Thursday.

The constitutional court on Wednesday overturned a government bill and stated that prisoners already serving reduced sentences may also benefit from a prison amnesty bill that came into effect last year. The amnesty reduces sentences by 10 years.

Agca is serving 10 years for the 1979 murder of Turkish newspaper editor Abdi Ipekci and a further seven years for robbing an Istanbul soda factory, also in 1979.

Lawyer Can Sevket Ozbay said Agca now qualifies for the amnesty and would see his sentence reduced by 10 years. He would be required to serve about six more years since he has already served a year of his sentence.

"The constitutional court decisions are binding, Agca qualifies," Ozbay said.

Authorities have to review each prisoner's case and it was not clear when prison authorities would notify Agca of his remaining sentence.

News reports said, however, that the Ipekci family lawyers would appeal against Agca's early release.

Italy extradited Agca to Turkey last year after Rome pardoned him for the 1981 attack in St Peter's Square that left the pope seriously wounded. He served nearly 20 years in prison in Italy.