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Turkey

President Gul believes Turkey's attempted Twitter ban 'will be over soon'

Turkey's president has said he expects the government's attempts to block the Twitter website to soon stop. The ban has been more successful in courting criticism than in curtailing Turkish Twitter traffic.

President Abdullah Gul told reporters in Ankara on Sunday that he expected an end to the Twitter ban soon, speaking ahead of a visit to the Netherlands.

"I believe this problem will soon be over," Gul said. "This is of course an unpleasant situation for such a developed country as Turkey, which has weight in the region and which is negotiating with the European Union."

Gul had first criticized the attempted restrictions in a series of messages posted on Twitter itself. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan's deputy prime minister, Bulent Arinc, also continued to use the site once the ban was imposed.

European Parliament President Martin Schulz was critical of the restrictions in the German press over the weekend, saying that for any potential EU member, "freedom of opinion and the rule of law are non-negotiable."

"We have had to acknowledge some clear steps backwards in several areas in Turkey in the past months," Schulz told the Passauer Neue Presse newspaper.

More than 10 million Turkish citizens use Twitter, and many have continued to do so since the ban was imposed.

Twitter's own @support handle on Friday offered advice on how to still submit Twitter updates using SMS "text" messages from cell phones, while other tech-savvy Turkish users shared information on more complete ways to circumvent the ban, such as using an Internet proxy.

According to web analysts Somera, the rate of Tweets emanating from Turkey rose by around one-third, to 17,000 messages a minute, in the first 36 hours after the site was blocked.

Campaign rhetoric

Prime Minister Erdogan announced the attempted ban in a campaign speech on Thursday night, threatening to "rip out the roots" of the 140-character microblogging web service. Turkey votes in local elections on March 30. Twitter had become a popular online vehicle for sharing links to audio footage of phone calls appearing to incriminate Erdogan and some of his allies in corruption allegations.

In a separate campaign speech on Sunday, the same address Erdogan used to announce that the country's air force had shot down a Syrian jet, the prime minister struck a defiant tone on the attempted censorship.

"The usual media are attacking us. What do they call it? 'Intolerance of freedoms,'" Erdogan told a crowd in Istanbul. "I don't care who it is, I'm not listening. Even if the world stands up against us, I am obliged to takes measures against every attack that threatens my nation's security."

Positioning for the presidency?

Erdogan maintains that the recordings of phone calls posted online were first doctored by his opponents. His press office explained the ban by saying that the San Francisco-based company had ignored court orders to remove certain links.

"This entity called Twitter, this YouTube, this Facebook, they have shaken families to their roots … I don't understand how people of good sense could defend this Facebook, YouTube and Twitter. There are all kinds of lies there," he said.

More than 10 million Turkish people, or around 40 percent of the country's Internet users, use Twitter, according to the GlobalWebIndex market researchers.

Erdogan's AKP (Justice and Development Party) is almost certain to emerge as the strongest force in the March 30 elections, but might struggle to match or exceed the 40 percent it won in the last such ballot in 2009.

Under current AKP rules, Erdogan cannot run for a fourth term as prime minister in general elections set for 2015. He was therefore long considered a likely presidential candidate in Turkey's first direct presidential elections this August, when the AKP's Gul and other previous presidents are not eligible to run. However, Erdogan's deputy, Arinc, said last month that the AKP could yet change its rules to let Erdogan seek a fourth term as prime minister instead "if we feel the need."

msh/kms (AFP, dpa)

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