Turkey’s president rules out YouTube, Facebook ban

Turkey’s PM Erdogan has already tightened his government’s grip over the internet, generating criticism at home and abroad

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Turkey’s President Abdullah Gul ruled out any potential ban on Facebook and YouTube after Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan warned that his government may block the popular sites after online leaks exposing corruption in the top official’s inner circle worsened a spiraling scandal surrounding him.

“Closure of [the social media sites] is out of the question,” Gul said when asked about the threat made by Erdogan, adding that freedom of expression was a supported element in government reforms.

The co-founder of Erdogan’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), added that under a recently assigned law, authorities could block access to content if a user’s privacy was violated.

“We are always proud of the reforms we have made regarding the broadening of freedoms,” Gul added.

After already tightening internet control, Erdogan on Thursday announced intentions to go a step further. “There are new steps we will take in that sphere after March 30... including a ban (on YouTube, Facebook),” Erdogan told private ATV television in an interview late Thursday.

Rising pressure

Erdogan and his government underwent rising pressures after audio recordings were leaked last week in which Erdogan and his son allegedly discussed how to hide vast sums of money.

Other recordings supposedly heard the top official criticizing the owner of a newspaper over a published article over a telephone conversation. The recording was released on YouTube last Thursday.

Erdogan reportedly also suggested the sacking of the journalist. His comments sparked further concerns over the freedom of media under his authority.

The top official rejects corruption accusations, claims the leaked taped have been “fabricated,” and them on U.S.-based Turkish Islamic preacher Fethullah Gulen.

Erdogan also accused Gulen of using his influence in the judiciary and police to engineer a graft probe targeting the government. Gulen denies the charge - and also denied involvement in the released tapes.

New foe

Meanwhile, Turkey’s constitutional court backed former army chief Ilker Basbug’s bid for release from a life jail sentence on Thursday, increasing disarray in the trial of coup plots against Erdogan who is now battling a new foe, Reuters reported.

The ruling paves the way for his possible release by a lower court and could be a precedent for more than 200 other defendants jailed for their alleged roles in the “Ergenekon” conspiracy against Erdogan’s government.

Basbug has been held in Silivri prison near Istanbul for 26 months in connection with the “Ergenekon” case, a trial which helped tame Turkey’s once all-powerful military.

The five-year trial, which reached a verdict last August, was key to a decade-long battle between Erdogan’s Islamic-rooted AK Party and a secularist establishment that had led modern Turkey from its foundation by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk.

Erdogan’s government has been shaken by a high-level corruption scandal that erupted in mid-December and ensnared the premier’s key political and business allies.

(With AFP and Reuters)

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