Turkey's courts blocked access to Twitter following Erdogan's vow,
on the campaign trail ahead of key March 30 local elections, to
"wipe out" the service. In a defiant stand, Erdogan said he did not
care what the international community had to say about it.
The prime minister, who has been in power for 11 years, is battling
a corruption scandal that has been fed by social media awash with
alleged evidence of government wrongdoing.
Gul, however, took to Twitter himself to say complete bans on social
media platforms were unacceptable and to voice his hope that the
block would be short-lived.
Turkey's main opposition party said it would challenge the ban and
file a criminal complaint against Erdogan on the grounds of
violating personal freedoms. The country's bar association filed a
separate court challenge.
"One cannot approve of the complete closure of social media
platforms," Gul tweeted. He said only individual Internet pages
should be blocked if there is a court order on the grounds that a
person's privacy is being violated.
Gul co-founded the ruling Islamist-rooted AK Party with Erdogan and
has remained a close ally. But he is viewed as a more conciliatory
figure than the combative prime minister and their relations have at
times appeared strained.
In the run up to the elections, the president has been hesitant to
openly criticize Erdogan, despite the brewing scandal and the
latter's increasing claims of a conspiracy against his government
Erdogan's ruling AK Party has already tightened Internet controls,
handed government more influence over the courts, and reassigned
thousands of police and hundreds of prosecutors and judges as it
fights a corruption scandal he has cast as a plot by political
enemies to oust him.
Telecoms watchdog BTK said the social media platform had been
blocked by the courts after complaints were made by citizens that it
was breaching privacy. It said Twitter had ignored previous requests
to remove content.
"Because there was no other choice, access to Twitter was blocked in
line with court decisions to avoid the possible future victimization
of citizens," it said.
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Twitter users in Turkey began reporting widespread outages in direct
connections overnight. Some users trying to open the Twitter.com
website were taken to a statement apparently from another regulator
citing four court orders as the basis for the ban.
European Union Enlargement Commissioner Stefan Fuele said he was
"gravely concerned" by the move.
"Being free to communicate and freely choose the means to do it is
(a)fundamental EU value," Fuele wrote on his Twitter account.
Turkey's financial markets were also unsettled, with the lira
weakening to 2.24 against the dollar, shares falling 0.7 percent and
the benchmark 10-year bond rising to 11.24 percent from 11.12.
San Francisco-based Twitter said it was looking into the matter but
had not issued a formal statement. The company did publish a tweet
addressed to Turkish users instructing them on how to continue
tweeting via SMS text message.
Erdogan was scathing about the social media service on Thursday
"Twitter, mwitter!," he told thousands of supporters at a rally, in
a phrase translating roughly as "Twitter, schmitter!".
"We will wipe out all of these," Erdogan said. "The international
community can say this, can say that. I don't care at all. Everyone
will see how powerful the Republic of Turkey is," he said in a
characteristically unyielding tone.
(Writing by Daren Butler; editing by Jeremy Gaunt)
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