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Turkish Officials Block Twitter in Leak Inquiry


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The Turkish government blocked Twitter on Thursday night after the social media network had been used to spread recordings of telephone conversations and leaked documents that appeared to implicate high-ranking officials and some of their relatives and associates in a widespread corruption investigation.

The shutdown, which Turks began to notice around midnight, occurred 10 days before local elections and came after Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan lashed out at Twitter in an election rally in Bursa, a western town, on Thursday, saying that he did not care about international reactions if national security was at stake.

“Twitter, mwitter! We will wipe out roots of all,” Mr. Erdogan declared in a campaign speech before the pivotal elections on March 30. “They say, ‘Sir, the international community can say this, can say that.’ I don’t care at all. Everyone will see how powerful the state of the Republic of Turkey is.”

Mr. Erdogan had faced perhaps the biggest challenge in his 11 years in office when unidentified critics began using Twitter and YouTube to leak dozens of phone calls and documents that seemed to tie government officials and business circles close to the government to a graft inquiry that began last December.

One of the recordings purports to be of the prime minister himself telling his son to get rid of large sums of cash on the morning of Dec. 17, when the homes of three former ministers’ sons were raided. Mr. Erdogan has repeatedly — and angrily — insisted that the recording was fake.

The prime minister’s office issued a statement before the ban was imposed, underlining what it said was Twitter’s lack of cooperation after four local courts ruled that certain content must be removed. “The presidency of Telecommunication made necessary attempts in line with court rulings, however, Twitter officials have remained indifferent to these requests,” said the statement, posted on the semiofficial Anadolu News Agency. Unless the website cooperated, the agency added, “Technically, there would be no other option than blocking access to Twitter in order to reduce damages of our citizens.”

Social media networks in Turkey have grown more popular since antigovernment protests last summer, when traditional media organizations were silenced under government pressure and journalists critical of Mr. Erdogan were fired or forced to resign.

“This is certainly politically motivated prior to the local elections and the worst kind of political censorship I have seen,” said Yaman Akdeniz, a professor of cyberlaw at Istanbul’s Bilgi University. “Absence of Twitter from Turkey will be a significant democratic deficit.”

Jim Prosser, a Twitter spokesman, said the company was “looking into” the ban, adding, “That’s all we have for the moment.” In Twitter messages, the company urged people to use mobile connections to get back on Twitter.

New Internet restrictions, adopted by the government in February, allowed for the swift closing of websites or removal of content by court order.

In a statement on Thursday night, the United States State Department expressed concern over “any suggestion that social media sites could be shut down.”


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