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Fears are growing that Facebook and YouTube could be banned in Turkey as tensions rise ahead of key local elections scheduled to be held in late March.
Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan, head of the ruling Islamist-rooted AK Party, says the social media sites are being used by political opponents to post allegedly fabricated recordings exposing corruption in his inner circle.
“We will take the necessary steps in the strongest way…because these people…encourage every kind of immorality and espionage for their own ends,” Erdogan told Turkish television.
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He said fragments of recorded telephone conversations had been edited to give a false and misleading impression of their content.
In one recording, released on YouTube late last Thursday, Erdogan can be heard on the telephone haranguing a newspaper owner about a critical story and suggesting journalists be sacked.
In an election campaign speech to followers last week he alluded to the uses to which social media were being put, saying, “We will not let our people be ruined by Facebook and YouTube.”
His threats were later dismissed by Turkey’s president, Abdullah Gul, a co-founder of the AK Party, who said closure of the sites was “out of the question.”
Gul said that new measures adopted last month allowed authorities to block access to material on the sites if a person’s privacy is violated.
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“We are always proud of the reforms we have made regarding the broadening of freedoms,” he said.
The president has also been criticized in the past year by liberal-leaning Turks for remaining silent over some government measures they see as curtailing basic freedoms.
There has been no immediate reaction from Facebook or YouTube to the potential threats to their services in the country. Turkey has a population of 77 million and ranks among the world’s top 15 for Facebook use, with around 34 million active users every month.
YouTube has already felt the wrath of Turkey’s government: The video service was banned for more than two years, until 2010, after users posted videos deemed insulting to the republic’s founder, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk.
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