Widespread Twitter outages in Turkey after PM threatens ban

ANKARA Fri Mar 21, 2014 5:32am IST

Cameramen film a news conference by Turkey's Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan in Istanbul February 3, 2014. REUTERS/Osman Orsal/Files

Cameramen film a news conference by Turkey's Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan in Istanbul February 3, 2014.

Credit: Reuters/Osman Orsal/Files

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ANKARA (Reuters) - Twitter users in Turkey reported widespread outages on Friday, hours after Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan threatened to shut down access to the social media platform as he battles a damaging corruption scandal.

Some users trying to open the Twitter.com website were taken to a statement apparently from Turkey's telecommunications regulator (TIB). The statement cited four court orders as the basis for blocking the site, where some users in recent weeks have posted voice recordings and documents purportedly showing evidence of corruption among Erdogan's inner circle.

"Twitter, mwitter!," Erdogan told thousands of supporters at a rally ahead of March 30 local elections late on Thursday, in a phrase translating roughly as "Twitter, schmitter!".

"We will wipe out all of these," said Erdogan, who has said the corruption scandal is part of a smear campaign by his political enemies.

"The international community can say this, can say that. I don't care at all. Everyone will see how powerful the Republic of Turkey is," he said in a characteristically unyielding tone.

San Francisco-based Twitter said Thursday afternoon local time that it was looking into the matter and had not issued a formal statement. But the company did publish a tweet addressed to Turkish users instructing them on how to continue tweeting via SMS text message.

Twitter, which was originally invented as a text message-based network before it evolved into a Web-based multimedia platform, allows users to access stripped down versions of its service.

Turkish Internet users were quick to come up with their own ways to circumvent the block. The hashtag #TwitterisblockedinTurkey quickly moved among the top trending globally.

The disruption sparked a virtual uproar with many comparing Turkey to Iran and North Korea, where social media platforms are tightly controlled.

There were also calls to take to the street to protest, although some users equally called for calm.

Nazli Ilicak, a columnist who used to work for the pro-government Sabah newspaper described the move as "a civil coup" in an interview on broadcaster CNN Turk.

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Following his speech, Erdogan's office said in a statement that Erdogan was referring to what it called Twitter's failure to implement Turkish court orders seeking the removal of some links and that they may be left with no option but to ban the platform.

"If Twitter officials insist on not implementing court orders and rules of law ... there will be no other option but to prevent access to Twitter to help satisfy our citizens' grievances," the statement said.

Thursday's apparent blocking was only the latest clash between Turkey's ruling party and social media companies including Google, Facebook and Twitter.

After a series of popular protests partly fueled by Twitter last summer, Erdogan slammed the service as "a scourge." Shortly thereafter a government minister asked Twitter to establish an office in the country so that it could better communicate requests to take down content or hold the company accountable to Turkish law. Twitter did not respond to the request.

Erdogan said two weeks ago that Turkey could also ban Facebook and YouTube, which he says have been abused by his enemies after a stream of audio recordings purportedly revealing corruption in his inner circle emerged online.

(Reporting by Humeyra Pamuk and Orhan Coskun in Ankara and Edwin Chan in San Francisco; Writing by Nick Tattersall in Ankara; Editing by David Gregorio, Bernard Orr)

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