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Turkey

Top Turkish court outlaws Twitter ban, rules it violates free speech

Turkey's constitutional court has outlawed the government's attempted ban on social media website Twitter, saying it violated freedom of expression and individual rights. The ban was implemented ahead of elections.

The constitutional court on Wednesday upheld an earlier ruling saying restrictions on public access to Twitter violated freedom of speech. The Turkish authorities had appealed the initial ruling.

The country's top court called for the ban to be lifted, although it was not immediately clear whether the government would comply. Wednesday's verdict is binding and cannot be appealed, but the government in Ankara did not immediately respond to it.

Many Turkish Twitter users found ways to circumvent the attempted restrictions since their imposition on March 21. One of them, a political scientist at Ankara University, said the ruling meant that the Turkish government was left without a choice.

"If there is anyone who believes there is rule of law and human rights in this country, TIB must execute the court verdict and lift the ban on Twitter," Kerem Altiparmak said on Twitter. The government sought to block the micro-blogging site to its roughly 12 million Turkish users after Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan spoke critically of the social media site at a local election campaign rally.

Twitter, a short messaging service well suited to sharing links to information elsewhere online, had become a popular vehicle for sharing audio recordings that seemed to implicate Erdogan and his son in a major corruption scandal. Erdogan said the recordings were fabricated.

Turkish President Abdullah Gul and Erdogan's deputy premier, Bulent Arinc, were among the most notable residents to defy the attempted Twitter ban.

Scandals don't reach polling stations

Despite the corruption scandal, public dissatisfaction at the handling of major protests in Istanbul last year, and another attempted ban on the Google-owned video portal YouTube, Erdogan's AKP (Justice and Development Party) increased its share of the national vote in Sunday's elections, according to unofficial results. Opposition parties have challenged the results, and the Supreme Electoral Board (YSK) has said it will publish official results only after considering the challenges. Thousands of people held a protest outside its offices in Ankara on Tuesday, calling for a recount.

Erdogan's AKP also retained control of the financial hub, Istanbul, and the capital, Ankara.

The Turkish government said its ban on YouTube, implemented days before the ballot, was a result of a bugged conversation on Syria between top government officials being posted on the site. The government said the audio-only recording was genuine, but doctored before publication; Erdogan called it a "vile, cowardly, immoral act" that put national security at risk.

In response to recent developments in Turkey, Angela Merkel's powerful Bavarian allies from the Christian Social Union (CSU) have appealed for the country's EU accession process to be stopped. Turkey was recognized as a candidate for membership back in 1999, but has made rather modest progress towards accession since. The country has so far officially closed only one of more than 30 "chapters" that must be completed before EU entry is permitted.

msh/hc (AFP, AP, Reuters)

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