Turkish president says on Twitter that social media bans are unacceptable

Turkey's Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan addresses members of his ruling AK Party (AKP) during a session at the Turkish parliament in Ankara on Feb. 25, 2014.

UPDATE: Turkey's ban on Twitter ahead of bitterly contested elections sparked public fury over a "digital coup" on Friday, brought international condemnation and triggered a rift between prime minister and president.

Courts blocked access to Twitter after Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan's defiant vow, on the campaign trail on Thursday ahead of March 30 local polls, to "wipe out" the social media service, whatever the international community had to say about it.

Meanwhile, Turkish President Abdullah Gul said on Friday that it was unacceptable to impose complete bans on social media platforms after a court decision to block access to Twitter.

Writing on Twitter, Gul said only individual Internet pages should be blocked if a court ruled that an individual's privacy had been violated, adding he hoped the current block would not last long.

— Thomson Reuters

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Agence France-Presse — Turkey's combative prime minister warned on Thursday that he would eradicate Twitter in the wake of damaging allegations of corruption in his inner circle that have spread across social networks in recent weeks.

"We will wipe out Twitter. I don't care what the international community says," premier Recep Tayyip Erdogan said at an election rally in the western province of Bursa.

"They will see the Turkish republic's strength," he added.

The Internet Publishers Association, a body representing online and media companies, said the move was an attempt to "destroy freedom of expression."

"The prime minister having the power to shut down Twitter will be the confirmation of dictatorship," it said in a statement published by local media on Thursday.

Turkey, which has more than 10 million Twitter users, has seen access to thousands of sites blocked in recent years.

Twitter was unavailable for most of them on Thursday, but @Policy, the "voice of Twitter's global public policy team," offered a work-around later in the day.

YouTube was banned for two years up to 2010 because of material deemed insulting to the country's revered founder, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk.

Erdogan's office said in a statement that Twitter remained "indifferent" to court rulings about the removal of "some links" and that the premier was bringing that to attention.

"There could be no solution other than technically blocking access to Twitter in order to address the unjust treatment our citizens were subjected to unless Twitter changes its stance of ignoring court decisions and disobeying the law," according to the statement made to the state-run Anatolia news agency after Erdogan's comments.

More from GlobalPost: Turkey bans Twitter: Here's why

Erdogan, Turkey's all-powerful leader since 2003, has been under mounting pressure since audio recordings spread across social media that appeared to put him at the heart of a major corruption investigation.

Recordings include an apparent discussion between Erdogan and his son about hiding money, as well as others in which he appears to be interfering in business deals, court cases and media coverage.

Some of the most damaging information has come from a Twitter account under the name Haramzadeler ("Sons of Thieves"), which appears to have access to a huge trove of secret documents and police wiretaps linked to the investigation.

Erdogan has dismissed most of the recordings as "vile" fakes concocted by his rivals, and threatened to ban YouTube and Facebook after crucial local elections on March 30.

"This has nothing to do with freedoms. Freedom does not mean the right to intrude on someone's privacy, or to pass the state's secrets to the international arena," Erdogan said on Thursday.

Erdogan's government has been rocked by a vast corruption probe launched in December which saw dozens of people rounded up, including close business and political allies of the prime minister.

The Turkish strongman has accused associates of a former staunch ally — US-exiled cleric Fethullah Gulen — of being behind the graft probe that claimed the scalps of four ministers.

Gulen has denied any involvement.

Turkey recently tightened government control of the Internet and the judiciary, generating criticism from rights groups.

Erdogan is openly suspicious of the Internet.

"I don't have that much time to waste in Twitter," he said last month.

Last year, he labelled it a "menace" for helping organize mass anti-government protests.