Twitter blocked in Turkey after Erdogan’s threat

Twitter was blocked after Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan threatened to ‘wipe out’ the social network

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Twitter went dark in Turkey late Thursday, just hours after Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan threatened to “wipe out” the social network - one of several highlighting corruption allegations in his inner circle.

Opposition media outlets said the block was implemented by Erdogan’s government, after the prime minister told a rally he would eradicate Twitter access in the country.

The state-run Anatolia news agency said authorities “technically blocked access to Twitter” because the service had ignored various Turkish court orders to remove some links.

However, by the afternoon, Twitter users in the country have begun to regain access to their accounts, Turkish newspaper Sabah reported.

The newspaper quoted sources that said that Twitter has begun a search to acquire a legal representative since the company does not have an office based in the country. Attorney Gonenc Gurkaynak, who previously represented video-sharing giant YouTube, is said to have made a deal to represent the site.

Earlier, President Abdullah Gul, a political ally of Erdogan, evaded the ban to tweet that the “shutdown was unacceptable.”

“A complete ban on social media platforms cannot be approved,” tweeted the president to his more than four million followers, Reuters reported.

Gul, a frequent user of social media, said it was not “technically possible to totally block access to platforms used all over the world.”

U.S. State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said the order to prevent Turks from accessing the U.S. firm’s micro-blogging site was “contrary to Turkey’s desire to be a model of democracy.”

France on Friday condemned Turkey’s “shocking” decision to shut down Twitter and said the aspiring EU member had to respect freedom of expression and other basic rights.

“This shocking decision of the Turkish government runs contrary to the freedom of expression and communication which are fundamental principles,” said French foreign ministry spokesman Romain Nadal, according to Agence France-Presse.

“Turkey has to respect its commitments as a candidate (for EU membership) especially in the field of fundamental rights, including freedom of expression,” he said.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel also denounced the ban, saying it did not fit with Germany’s view of freedom of expression.

“What we are hearing from Turkey does not comply with what we in Germany understand as free communication,” said Merkel’s spokeswoman Christiane Wirtz. “It doesn’t fit with our idea of freedom of expression to forbid or block any form of communication.”

Turkish telecoms watchdog BTK said on Friday that Twitter had been blocked by the courts after complaints were made by citizens that the social media platform was breaching privacy, Reuters reported.

The watchdog had previously asked Twitter to remove some content but Twitter had failed to do so, the BTK said in a statement on its website.

“Because there was no other choice, access to Twitter was blocked in line with court decisions to avoid the possible future victimization of citizens,” Reuters quoted it as saying in a statement.

Turkey's main opposition party will file a legal challenge on Friday against a court decision to block access to Twitter, senior Republican People’s Party (CHP) deputy Akif Hamzacebi told Reuters.

He also said the party would file a criminal complaint against Erdogan on the grounds that he was violating personal freedoms.

Despite the block on Twitter, Ankara has no current plans to block access to other social media sites like Facebook, according to an unnamed official quoted by Reuters.

“The path was taken to block access within the framework of a court decision because of the failure to overcome the problem with the management of Twitter,” the official said.

“At the moment there is no such decision for other social media like Facebook,” he added.

Erdogan warned on Thursday that he would eradicate Twitter after a number of audio recordings anonymously posted on social media purportedly exposed corruption in his inner circle.

"We will wipe out Twitter. I don't care what the international community says," premier Recep Tayyip Erdogan said in an election rally in the western province of Bursa.

"They will see the Turkish republic's strength," he added.

Early this month, Erdogan warned that his government could ban popular social media networks Youtube and Facebook after the crucial March 30 local election, triggering U.S. concern.

Erdogan, Turkey's all-powerful leader since 2003, has been under mounting pressure after audio recordings allegedly show his involvement in corruption, and others portraying him interfering in business deals, court cases and media coverage.

He dismissed most of the recordings as "vile" fakes concocted by his rivals.

Erdogan's government has been rocked by a vast corruption probe launched in December which saw dozens of people rounded up including the premier's close business and political allies.

The Turkish strongman has accused associates of a former staunch ally -- U.S.-exiled cleric Fethullah Gulen -- of being behind the graft probe that claimed the scalps of four ministers.

Gulen however has denied any involvement.

Turkey recently tightened government control of the internet saying it wanted to defend privacy.

Erdogan's critics said the new law was a further bid to hush up corruption allegations flooding social media and video sharing sites.

Twitter’s public policy team responded by saying on its official @policy feed that Turks could get around the block by tweeting through mobile telephone text services, Agence France-Presse reported.

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