Turkish police storm media group linked to Erdogan rival

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Riot police firing tear gas and water cannon storm the Istanbul headquarters of a media group linked to President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s bitter rival, on what is described as a dark day for democracy ahead of a pivotal election.

Turkish police storm media group linked to Erdogan rival

Turkish police storm media group linked to Erdogan rival

/ Istanbul (Turkey) – 28 October 2015 10:57 – AFP (Tanya WILLMER and Dilay GUNDOGAN ) / WRAP – UPDATE

Riot police firing tear gas and water cannon on Wednesday stormed the Istanbul headquarters of a media group linked to President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s bitter rival, on what was described as a dark day for democracy ahead of a pivotal election.

The action triggered widespread concern about media freedom in Turkey, with critics accusing the government of trying to silence opponents of Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) before Sunday’s legislative vote.

Police in riot helmets moved in after a controversial court ruling ordered the seizure of companies held by the Kozi-Ipek conglomerate linked to US-exiled preacher Fethullah Gulen, a one-time Erdogan ally now regarded as his arch-nemesis.

Officers smashed through the gates of the media compound with chainsaws, according to images broadcast live on the group’s television stations, Bugun and Kanalturk.

Brawls erupted outside the offices, prompting police to use tear gas and batons against demonstrators, including lawmakers from the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP).

Several arrests were made, media reports said, but crowds remained outside the building, which also houses the Millet and Bugun newspapers, around noon.

CHP lawmakers and Bugun TV editor-in-chief Tarik Toros were seen negotiating with police chiefs who tried in vain to cut the live broadcast.

“This is an operation to silence all dissident voices that the ruling party does not like, including media outlets, opposition parties and businessmen,” Toros said.

– ‘A shameful day’ –

Critics say Erdogan has become increasingly authoritarian, brooking no dissent since becoming president in August 2014 after more than a decade as prime minister.

Sunday’s election is crucial for the AKP, which lost its parliamentary majority in a June vote, scuppering Erdogan’s hopes of changing the constitution to expand his presidential powers.

“Today is a shameful day… Everyone who made this decision and those who implemented it will have to answer for their crimes,” said CHP lawmaker Baris Yarkadas.

The United States also voiced concern about media freedom in its NATO ally.

“We continue to urge Turkish authorities to ensure their actions uphold universal democratic values… including due process, freedom of expression and assembly, and of course access to media and information,” State Department spokesman John Kirby said.

European Parliament President Martin Schulz wrote on Twitter that he was “deeply concerned” about the seizure: “Free media (is) a cornerstone of vibrant democracies.”

– ‘Politically motivated’ –

An Ankara court on Monday appointed a board of trustees to manage the Koza-Ipek group, seizing its 23 companies as part of a crackdown on Gulen’s followers.

The move triggered demonstrations in both Ankara and Istanbul on Tuesday, with protesters chanting: “We will not be silenced.”

The Ankara chief prosecutor’s office said the seizure was linked to an investigation into the conglomerate on suspicion of “terror financing”, “terror propaganda” and other offences related to Koza-Ipek’s support for Gulen’s Hizmet (Service) movement.

Koza-Ipek CEO Akin Ipek denounced it as “politically motivated”, saying the government had failed to find any illegal activity during inspections of the company, whose businesses range from media to mining, insurance to healthcare and tourism to food.

– Shares tumble –

Shares in its listed companies, which include Turkey’s biggest gold miner, sank around 10 percent on the Istanbul bourse on Wednesday.

Bloomberg News said the police action has has erased about 1.2 billion liras ($410 million, 370 million euros) in market value from gold miner Koza Altin Isletmeleri, energy explorer Ipek Dogal Enerji and miner Koza Anadolu Metal.

Police in September also raided Koza-Ipek’s media companies, briefly detaining six people including the CEO.

“For investors, this underlines the continued politicization of judiciary and regulatory bodies in Turkey, and the elevated threat of political risks to opposition-linked business during the election period,” Bloomberg quoted Jonathan Friedman, a Turkey analyst at global risk consultancy Stroz Friedberg, as saying.

Media rights groups have expressed growing alarm about the state of press freedom under Erdogan, with about 20 detained on a variety of charges.

There have also been a string of cases against journalists, artists and even schoolboys accused of “insulting” the head of state.

Erdogan accuses the 74-year-old Gulen of operating a “state within a state” in Turkey and trying to topple him by persuading allies in the police and judiciary to launch a vast probe into government corruption in December 2013.

Turkey’s authorities responded by purging both the police force and judiciary of pro-Gulen elements and arresting editors and businessmen.

The cleric, who left for the United States in 1999 to escape charges of anti-secular activities by the government of the day, denies the allegations.

He is set to be tried in absentia on January 6.

txw/ser

Tags : Rival, Erdogan, Linked, group, media, storm, police, Turkish

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