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Turkish police raid anti-Erdogan newspaper with tear gas and water cannon

The state seizure of Zaman comes amid growing concerns over freedom of expression in Turkey under Recep Tayyip Erdogan's rule
Demonstrators clash with police outside Zaman's headquarters in Istanbul on Friday (AFP)

Turkish police on Friday raided the premises of a daily newspaper staunchly opposed to President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, using tear gas and water cannon to break up crowds and enter the building, an AFP photographer said.

Police fired the tear gas and water cannon to move away a hundreds-strong crowd that had formed outside the headquarters of the Zaman newspaper in Istanbul following a court order for it to be placed under administration.

Earlier on Friday, an Istanbul court ordered a government takeover of the newspaper, adding to growing alarm over freedom of expression in the country.

The Zaman newspaper, closely linked to Erdogan's chief foe, the US-based preacher Fethullah Gulen, was ordered into administration by the court on the request of Istanbul prosecutors, the state-run Anatolia news agency said. 

There was no immediate official explanation for the court's decision.

The move means the court will appoint new managers to run the newspaper, who will be expected to transform its editorial line.

Hundreds of supporters were gathered outside the paper's headquarters in Istanbul awaiting the arrival of bailiffs and security forces after the court order.

Turkish anti-riot police enter the Zaman Daily headquarters in Istanbul on 5 March 2016 (AFP)

"We will fight for a free press," and "We will not remain silent" said placards held by protesters, according to live images broadcast on the pro-Gulen Samanyolu TV.

"Democracy will continue and free media will not be silent," Zaman's editor-in-chief Abdulhamit Bilici was quoted as saying by the Cihan news agency outside its headquarters.

"I believe that free media will continue even if we have to write on the walls. I don't think it is possible to silence media in the digital age," he told Cihan, part of the Zaman media group.

'Last free edition'

Sevgi Akarcesme, the editor-in-chief of the paper's English language edition Today's Zaman, said on Twitter that staff were working on the "last free edition" of their newspaper.

Gulen has been based in the United States since 1999, when he fled charges against him laid by the former secular authorities. Turkey has asked the US to extradite him, but Washington has shown little appetite for doing so.

Despite living outside of Turkey, Gulen built up huge influence in the country through allies in the police and judiciary, media and financial interests and a vast network of cramming schools.

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

There have been numerous legal crackdowns on structures linked to the group, and on Friday Turkish police arrested four executives of one of the country's largest conglomerates, accusing them of financing Gulen.

Boydak Holding group president Haci Boydak, director general Memduh Boydak and two board members were questioned at their homes in the central city of Kayseri.

Gulen supporters decry the accusations against him as ridiculous, saying all he leads is a more informal group known as Hizmet (Service).

'Just before EU summit' 

The effective seizure of the newspaper by the state comes amid growing concerns over freedom of expression in Turkey under Erdogan's rule.

The Cumhuriyet newspaper's editor-in-chief Can Dundar and Ankara bureau chief Erdem Gul were released on an order from Turkey's top court last week after three months in jail on charges of publishing state secrets. They still face trial on 25 March.

Meanwhile almost 2,000 journalists, bloggers and ordinary citizens, including high school students, have found themselves prosecuted on accusations of insulting Erdogan.

"By lashing out and seeking to rein in critical voices, President Erdogan's government is steamrolling over human rights," said Andrew Gardner, Amnesty International's Turkey expert in a statement.

Independent pro-Kurdish television channel IMV TV was taken off air in Turkey last weekend following accusations that it broadcast "terrorist propaganda" for militants.

The decision on Zaman comes as Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu heads to Brussels on Monday for a crucial summit meeting with EU leaders. The news broke as Erdogan was holding talks in Istanbul with EU President Donald Tusk. 

Critics have accused the EU of turning a blind eye to the situation with media freedom in Turkey in exchange for Ankara's cooperation in the refugee crisis.

Opponents say Erdogan, who served as premier from 2003-2014, has become an increasingly polarising figure unable to tolerate any criticism. 

The government angrily dismisses allegations it is cracking down on the press, saying the cases against Cumhuriyet and pro-Gulen media have nothing to do with freedom of expression.