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Turkish newspaper gets pro-Erdogan makeover after police raid

Zaman, a traditionally anti-government newspaper, includes articles supporting president a day after its offices were siezed by police
Turkish riot police enter the Zaman Daily headquarters in Istanbul on 5 March, 2016 (AFP)

A traditionally anti-government Turkish newspaper has printed several positive articles featuring President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in the first edition since its offices were seized in a late-night police raid.

Sunday's Zaman newspaper included a positive article about about Erdogan joining Turkish women for International Women’s Day, complete with a smiling picture of the president, and a front-page headline about a $3bn government project to connect the Asian and European sides of Istanbul with a third bridge.

The newspaper also mirrored language seen in pro-government newspapers in which Turkish soldiers killed fighting Kurdish rebels were described as "martyrs".

Journalists on Saturday reported being "prisoners in their own newsroom" after arriving for work to find the newsroom occupied my armed police.

Turkish police on Friday raided the Istanbul premises of Zaman, using tear gas and water cannon to enter the building to impose a court order that placed it under administration.

With an estimated circulation of 650,000, the newspaper has been closely affiliated with Erdogan's enemy, exiled Islamic preacher Fethullah Gulen.

Gulen is accused of seeking to overthrow the government by using his influence in the police and judiciary, as well as media and financial interests.  

Ankara accuses Gulen of running what it calls the Fethullahist Terror Organisation/Parallel State Structure (FeTO/PDY) and seeking to overthrow the legitimate Turkish authorities.

The Zaman edition that went to print before confiscation warned of the "darkest days" in the history of the Turkish press. On Saturday police fired rubber bullets and tear gas to disperse a group of the paper's supporters who were clapping in protest.

The new administration, appointed by a court order, on Saturday abolished the contract of the newspaper's editor-in-chief Abdulhamit Bilici while newspaper employees entered the building under tight police scrutiny.

Reporters from the paper and its subsidiary publications told MEE that their email address and official accounts had been shut down without explanation. The English-language Twitter channel also appeared to be disabled.

Speaking to MEE on Saturday, Mustafa Edib Yilmaz, the paper’s foreign news editor, said police had set up barriers and were checking everyone entering or leaving.

"People are only allowed in after they give their IDs, their names are noted down," he said.

"I don’t know what is awaiting us in the next few hours, if there will be a newspaper at all for tomorrow, or what it will look like if there will be any. That is pretty much uncertain."

AFP quoted another journalist as saying “the Sunday edition was not produced by Zaman’s staff.”

The effective seizure of the newspaper by the state comes ahead of a critical summit on Monday between Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu and EU leaders in Brussels.

The EU has urged Turkey to uphold press freedom.

The government has denied any interference in the paper's confiscation with Davutoglu calling it a "legal process".