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Turkish police raid opposition media, detain up to 27

The Zaman daily has been a long-time supporter of Turkish President Erdogan's rival Fethullah Gulen
Staff members of Zaman newspaper shout slogans and hold placards reading 'Free press can not be silenced' (AFP)

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

Arrest warrants were issued for a total of 32 people, including Ekrem Dumanli, the chief editor of Zaman, which is the country's top selling newspaper. While protesters initially prevented police from seizing Dumanli, the latest reports indicate that he has now been arrested.

Counter-terror police conducted early morning raids in 13 cities across Turkey, and detained at least 22 people including a top executive, producers and directors of Samanyolu television channel close to Gulen, the state-run Anatolia news agency said. Turkish opposition outlets, however, put the figure higher, saying 23 people were being held.

According to AFP, the number of arrests is now 27.

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 against members of his inner circle almost exactly a year ago.

I will "pursue them in their lairs," Erdogan said on Friday. "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."

"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.

The probe into the corruption scandal was launched on 17 December, 2013 and saw dozens of leading businessmen and political figures close to Erdogan, including the sons of three ministers, detained. The investigation was eventually stalled, after thousands of police officers and scores of judges were sacked.

Protesters gather outside Zaman

As news of a pending sweep spread, huge crowd gathered outside the offices of Zaman on the outskirts of Istanbul on Sunday, according to an AFP correspondent at the scene. Crowds forced the police to leave the building, initially without detaining any newspaper employees.

Zaman broadcast the raid live on its website, while the newspaper's English-language site described the rest of Turkey's media as largely "indifferent" to the events.

"The free press cannot be silenced," the crowd chanted, as Dumanli defiantly addressed them.

In a news conference following the attempted arrest, Dumanli said he dismissed a call to come down and meet the arresting officer during the raid as "nonsense."

"I am sitting in my office and I invited him to come and detain me," Dumanlı told the media.

He told reporters that there had been no physical resistance to the police officers and that they had been driven away purely through chants and slogans.

However, reports have since emerged indicating that Dumanli has now been detained.

Growing Gulen tensions

The swoop was the latest in a series of raids that began against alleged Gulen supporter in July, in what Erdogan has described as an attempt to root out the "parallel state" many say is prevalent within the security services and other state institutions.

As has happened in almost all previous raids - which until now have largely targeted police officers - the details of the arrests were leaked by a mysterious Twitter user named Fuat Avni before it was 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 has simply moved to another address.

Gulen, 73, is the spiritual leader of a movement which controls some 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 several years ago.

His Hizmet movement has denied being behind last year’s controversial corruption probe.

Politicians speak out

Senior government figures have been quick to defended the Sunday arrests.

In remarks made to reporters in northwestern Edirne province, Health Minister Mehmet Muezzinoglu stated that Turkey was based on rule of law and democracy.

"Turkey is a state of law," Muezzinoglu said. "If someone does wrong, they pay the penalty.”

Deputy Prime Minister Numan Kurtulmus said he was waiting to see the results of the investigation.

"We will see the results of the investigation. It is not appropriate to comment on this probe at this moment," he said.

However, Kemal Kilicdaroglu, chairman of the main Turkish main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), strongly criticised the crackdown.

"The press should be free, comfortable and it should be able to report fearlessly," Kilicdaroglu said.