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Media chiefs held in Turkey swoop on Erdogan opponents

By AFP - Dec 14,2014 - Last updated at Dec 14,2014

ISTANBUL — Turkish police on Sunday arrested the editor of the country’s biggest selling newspaper and at least two dozen other media figures in a new crackdown on supporters of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s exiled rival, Fethullah Gulen.

At least 25 people were held in raids across Turkey, including Ekrem Dumanli, the editor-in-chief of Zaman whose arrest in Istanbul was broadcast live on television. 

The round-up came just two days after Erdogan warned of a new blow against the “evil forces” of Gulen, who the president accused of orchestrating a corruption probe almost exactly a year ago against members of his inner circle. 

Those held include an executive of Samanyolu television, also seen as close to Gulen, as well as a TV director, producers, scriptwriters and some police officers. Arrest warrants were issued for a total of 32 people, the official Anatolia news agency reported.

Erdogan has repeatedly vowed vengeance on Gulen’s alleged “parallel state” within the police, media and judiciary and branded the massive corruption inquiry — which threatened to touch his own family — “an attempted coup”. 

He warned Friday he would “pursue them [Gulen supporters] in their lairs”.

“We are not just faced with a simple network, but one which is a pawn of evil forces at home and abroad,” he said. “We will go into their lairs again. Whoever is beside them and behind them, we will bring down this network and bring it to account.”

Gulen, 73, who lives in the United States, is the spiritual leader of the Hizmet movement, which controls media outlets, schools and cultural centres. He was a key backer of Erdogan before falling out with him over the government’s plans to shut down his schools.

Hizmet has denied being behind the corruption probe, which dragged down four ministers and prompted a Cabinet shake-up, posing the most serious challenge to Erdogan’s Islamic-rooted government since it came to power in 2002.


Raids predicted on Twitter

Early Sunday a huge crowd — made up of newspaper staff and readers — gathered outside Zaman’s offices on the outskirts of Istanbul, preventing the police from entering the building to make arrests. 

But plain clothes officers returned a few hours later, detaining a defiant Dumanli, as the crowd chanted: “The free press cannot be silenced.” 

Hidayet Karaca, the head of Samanyolu TV, called the raids “a shameful sight for Turkey”, before he himself was detained elsewhere. 

“Sadly in 21st century Turkey this is the treatment a media group with tens of television and radio stations, internet media and magazines receives.”

Anatolia reported that the suspects are accused of a number of offences including “forming a gang to try and seize state sovereignty”.

As in almost all the previous raids — which targeted mostly police officers suspected of backing Gulen — the details of the swoop were leaked by a mysterious Twitter user named Fuat Avni before it was even carried out. 

Last week Fuat Avni, believed to be a government official, warned his followers that police were set to detain some 400 people, including 150 journalists. Late Saturday, he went on to publish the names of those journalists, some of whom were among those rounded up. 


‘This is a coup’


Main opposition leader Kemal Kilicdaroglu denounced the operation as “a coup” that “we cannot accept under any circumstances”.

“The process that we are going through is not something faced in healthy democracies. This is a coup process,” he told reporters, vowing to be on the side of the victims.

In an apparent reference to Gulen supporters, Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said on Sunday: “Today is a day of test. Everyone will pay for what they have done and their anti-democratic behaviour.” 

Health Minister Mehmet Muezzingolu echoed Davuoglu and said: “Turkey is a state of law. If someone does wrong, they pay a price.” 

The swoop was the latest in a series of raids since July against Gulen supporters as the government cracks down on what Erdogan has described as a “parallel state” within the security forces seeking to topple his government. 

It came a year after the vast corruption probe was launched on December 17, 2013, that saw the arrests of dozens of leading businessmen and political figures close to Erdogan — then prime minister. 

The president, accused by critics of becoming increasingly authoritarian, managed to stall the investigation by sacking thousands of police and scores of judges and pushing through laws tightening state control over the judiciary and the Internet.

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