Turkish police raid media offices of Erdogan rival

Turkish police raid media offices of Erdogan rival

ISTANBUL - Turkish police on Sunday launched a sweeping operation to arrest dozens of supporters of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's rival, US-exiled imam Fethullah Gulen, including a raid on the offices of the Zaman daily, which is close to the cleric.

The operation came just two days after Erdogan signalled a new crackdown against the supporters of Gulen, who Erdogan blamed for orchestrating a corruption probe almost exactly a year ago against members of his inner circle.

Counter-terror police conducted early morning raids in 13 cities across Turkey, including Istanbul, and detained at least 14 people including a top executive, producers and directors of a television channel close to Gulen, the state-run Anatolia news agency said.

Arrest warrants were issued for a total of 32 people, including Ekrem Dumanli, the chief editor of Zaman, the country's top selling newspaper.

A huge crowd gathered outside the offices of Zaman on the outskirts of Istanbul, according to an AFP correspondent at the scene, forcing the police to leave the building without detaining any newspaper employees.

"The free press cannot be silenced," the crowd chanted, as Dumanli defiantly addressed them, challenged the police to come and detain him.

As in almost all the previous raids - which targetted mostly police officers - the details of the swoop were leaked by a mysterious Twitter user named Fuat Avni before it was even carried out.

Last week Fuat Avni warned his supporters that police were set to detain some 400 people, including 150 journalists. Late Saturday, he went on to publish the names of those journalists, some of whom were among those rounded up.

The government has repeatedly tried to shut down Fuat Avni's Twitter account but the user simply moves to another address.

The swoop was the latest in a series of raids since July against Gulen supporter as the government cracks down on what Erdogan has described as a "parallel state" within the security forces seeking to topple his government.

It came a year after a vast corruption scandal probe was launched on December 17, 2013 that saw dozens of leading businessmen and political figures close to Erdogan, including the sons of three ministers, detained.

Erdogan managed to stall the investigation by sacking thousands of police and scores of judges and pushing through laws tightening state control over the judiciary and the Internet.

The president on Friday signalled a new crackdown against Gulen supporters, saying he would "pursue them in their lairs".

"I want my dear nation to know that we are not just faced with a simple network, but one which is a pawn of evil forces at home and abroad," he said.

"We will go into their lairs again. Whoever is beside them and behind them, we will bring down this network and bring it to account," he added.

Gulen, 73, is the spiritual leader of a movement which controls media outlets, schools and culture centres and was a key backer of Erdogan before falling out with him over the government's plans to shut down his schools.

His Hizmet movement has denied being behind the corruption probe.

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