Turkish riot police have fired tear gas and water cannons at nearly 2,000 protesters demonstrating against a bill tightening control of the Internet as well as demanding the release of army officers jailed for plotting a coup.
The Internet control protests come after the parliament passed the bill, enabling authorities to block web pages deemed insulting or as invading privacy.
The move led Turkey’s opposition and several rights groups to urge Turkish President Abdullah Gul not to approve the bill
Gul has 15 days to sign the the bill before it comes into force. Defenders of the law, including Erdogan, say the new restrictions protect individual rights while critics argue they amount to nothing more than a fresh assault on freedom of expression.
The protesters were also demanding the release of army officers accused of attempting a coup.
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The government last week presented a bill to parliament clearing the way for the army officers to be retried. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan commented last month that he was not against the retrial of hundreds of military officers controversially jailed for attempting to topple his Islamist Justice and Development Party (AKP).
“Freedom to patriots, end conspiracies,” the protesters shouted on Thursday as police blocked them from marching to parliament in the capital Ankara.
“We are here to demand the release of all the patriots. Turkey is living under Tayyip’s rule of repression,” demonstrator Emine Altin told AFP, referring to the prime minister.
At least 12 protesters were arrested, police said. Two people, including a police officer, were injured and left bloodied in the clashes, according to an AFP reporter who witnessed the clashes.
Under the controversial proposals, eight specially appointed courts that convicted the soldiers in mass trials in 2012 and 2013 will be abolished and their case files passed to Turkey’s regular criminal courts.
The conciliatory gesture towards the military comes as Erdogan is facing a major corruption scandal which has implicated his entourage and dragged down some of his ministers ahead of March local elections.
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Erdogan has blamed associates of an influential movement led by US-based Turkish Muslim Leader Fethullah Gulen for instigating the corruption probe, and he has sacked thousands of police and prosecutors involved in the investigation.
Critics and opposition have accused the Turkish prime minister of turning Turkey into an authoritarian state. Erdogan responded by saying such claims are untrue.
“Our government is absolutely not a government of corruption. This is slander. And those who sling this slander will pay the price and also, those who are the subject of this slander would pay the price within the confines of law,” Erdogan told Al Jazeera .
Erdogan’s willingness to improve relations with the once all-powerful military he has fought to rein in is seen as a bid to shore up support in his battle against the Gulen movement.