Police in Turkey have fired water cannon and teargas to disperse hundreds of people protesting in the capital, Istanbul, against new controls on the internet approved by parliament this week, the Reuters news agency reported.

Demonstrators hurled firecrackers and stones on Saturday at police officers who cordoned off Taksim Square in the centre of the city.

They want to control what we do on the internet. It's repression. But the young will not be repressed, we won't take it lying down

Semih , a protester

"I pay my own internet bill but it's the government that decides what sites I can look at," one demonstrator, Semih, told the AFP news agency.

"They want to control what we do on the internet. It's repression. But the young will not be repressed, we won't take it lying down."

The new powers, once approved by the president, will let authorities block web pages within hours, in what the opposition has said is part of a government bid to stifle a corruption scandal.

However, the Turkish prime minister has criticised the suggestion that the new regulations will limit freedom of expression, according to the AFP.

"These regulations do not impose any censorship at all on the Internet ... On the contrary, they make it safer and freer," Recep Tayyip Erdogan said in Istanbul ahead of the protests.

He also denied that the regulations, passed by parliament late on Wednesday, meant that government authorities would have access to Internet users' personal information.

"Never. It is out of the question that people's private data will be recorded," said Erdogan, prime minister since 2003.

Stifle dissent

The new curbs provoked a storm of protest at home and abroad, with critics saying they were an attempt by Erdogan to stifle dissent and stop evidence of high-level corruption being seen online.

They give the telecoms authority the power to order a webpage blocked without the need for a court order if the content is deemed to infringe someone's privacy or as being offensive.

The timing in particular raised eyebrows because it comes as Erdogan deals with a major and deeply embarrassing corruption probe implicating members of his inner circle.

Human Rights Watch said the restrictions raise concerns that a "defensive government is seeking to increase its power to silence critics and to arbitrarily limit politically damaging material online".

Source: Agencies