Seized anti-Erdogan paper tows government line in new edition


On Sunday a leading Turkish newspaper which had staunchly opposed President Recep Tayyip Erdogan printed its first new edition since its seizure by authorities, strongly supporting the government line.

Using tear gas and water cannon to enter the building, Turkish police raided the Istanbul premises of the Zaman newspaper at the end of last week in order to impose a court order placing the media business under administration.

Yesterday the front page of the paper, normally strongly critical of the president, was full of articles supporting the government. Zaman headlined an ambitious three billion dollar government project to connect Asian and European sides of Turkey's mega city Istanbul by a third bridge.

In common with traditionally pro-government newspapers the front page also contained images of the funerals of "martyrs" killed in the military clashes with Kurdish rebels in the southeast. In one corner of the new edition Erdogan is seen holding the hand of an elderly woman and the newspaper announces the president is due to host a reception for women on women's day.

With an estimated circulation of 650,000, the newspaper has been closely affiliated with Erdogan's enemy, exiled Islamic preacher Fethullah Gulen, believed to be wielding significant influence in the police and judiciary, as well as media and financial interests. Ankara accuses Gulen of running what it calls the Fethullahist Terror Organisation/Parallel State Structure (FeTO/PDY) and seeking to overthrow the legitimate Turkish authorities.

In its last edition that went to print before its takeover, the newspaper warned of the "darkest days" in the history of the Turkish press and on Saturday police fired rubber bullets and tear gas to disperse a group of the paper's supporters who were clapping in protest.

The new administration, appointed by the court order, terminated the contract of the newspaper's editor-in-chief Abdulhamit Bilici on Saturday, while newspaper employees entered the building under tight police scrutiny.

Sunday's edition was the first issue after the takeover, which critics said was aimed at eradicating opposition media in Turkey, which hopes to join the European Union.

"Internet has been cut off, we are unable to use our system," one of the newspaper's journalists told reporters. "The Sunday edition was not produced by Zaman's staff," the journalist continued.

The seizure of the newspaper by the state comes ahead of a critical summit on Monday between Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu and EU leaders in Brussels. The EU has urged Turkey, its key ally in tackling the huge migrant crisis facing the continent, to uphold press freedom. The government, for its part, has denied any interference in what it termed a "legal process."

"There are many media outlets in Turkey that criticise our government. None of them are subjected to legal procedures," Davutoglu told A Haber television on Sunday. "But what's in question here is not merely a press activity, but rather an operation targeting a legitimate government that came to power with popular support," he said referring to Gulen loyalists.

Gulen has been based in the United States since 1999 when he fled charges against him laid by the former secular authorities. Turkey has asked the United States to extradite him but Washington has shown little interest in doing so.

Davutoglu said talks with the United States were under way "within the frame of international law" for Gulen's extradition.

"I hope we will obtain a result as soon as possible," he said.    (AFP)

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