* Gul also hints he will not block judiciary bill
* Laws have sparked fight in parliament, protests
* Opposition plans appeal to constitutional court
(Recasts with Gul approving Internet law)
By Nick Tattersall
ISTANBUL, Feb 18 Turkish President Abdullah Gul
approved a new law tightening control of the Internet on Tuesday
in a move bolstering embattled Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan but
raising concerns about free speech.
The legislation, along with a law increasing government
influence over the judiciary, is seen by Erdogan's critics as an
authoritarian response to a corruption inquiry shaking his
government, a bid to stymie court cases and to stop leaks
The judiciary bill will give the government more say in the
naming of judges and prosecutors, while the Internet law will
enable the authorities to block access to web pages within hours
without a prior court order.
Gul said he gave his approval for the Internet law after the
government said it would push through parliament amendments of
the legislation in response to the president's concerns
regarding two articles in the law.
"In order to give the opportunity for these amendments to be
made rapidly, I approved the law in front of me as soon as I
returned from Hungary," Gul wrote on his Twitter account.
The moves by Turkey, which has been seeking membership of
the European Union for decades, have raised concern in Brussels,
which fears it is shifting further away from EU norms. They have
also unnerved investors in a country whose stability over the
past decade has been based on Erdogan's firm rule.
The government says the laws will further democracy by
taking back control of a judiciary it sees as influenced by a
powerful but unaccountable cleric bent on unseating Erdogan, and
by protecting individuals' privacy on the Internet.
Police fired teargas to disperse demonstrators protesting
against the Internet law in Istanbul this month and
parliamentarians debating the judicial reforms came to blows on
Sunday, leaving one with a broken nose.
Communications Minister Lutfi Elvan said earlier on Tuesday
evening the government would present to parliament the Internet
law amendments once Gul had given his approval.
Under the changes, permission for authorities to access
Internet traffic data will require a court order. Telecom
authorities will have to seek a court ruling within 24 hours if
they block access to Internet material on privacy grounds.
Gul has made little secret of his desire to return to
mainstream politics and is seen as a future leader of the AKP,
an ambition his critics say leaves him too wary of conflict with
Erdogan to act as an effective check on his power.
"Gul wants to serve as president for a second term and has
the desire to chair the AKP after Erdogan, so even if he does
not fully agree, he is approving controversial regulations from
the party," political analyst Atilla Yesilada said in a report.
The battle for control of the High Council of Judges and
Prosecutors (HSYK), which appoints senior members of the
judiciary, lies at the heart of a feud between Erdogan and
influential U.S.-based cleric Fethullah Gulen.
Gulen, whose followers say they number in the millions, is
believed to have built up influence in the police and judiciary
over decades and leads a powerful worldwide Islamic movement
from a forested compound in the United States.
Erdogan blames Gulen, a former ally who helped cement AK
Party support over the past decade, for unleashing the graft
investigation he sees as an attempted "judicial coup" meant to
undermine him in the run-up to local and presidential elections
this year. The cleric denies any such role.
Gul is seen as enjoying more support from Gulen's network of
sympathisers, who have more pro-democratic and reformist views,
than does Erdogan, whose stand on issues from abortion to
alcohol they see as unnecessary interference in private life.
But Gul has also been critical of the cleric's influence in
state institutions in recent months, echoing Erdogan's warning
that a "state within the state" will not be tolerated.
In the eyes of Turkey's opposition, too weak in parliament
to stall AKP bills, that opens the way for Erdogan to impose an
increasingly authoritarian rule.
"If the president approves the HSYK law, the judiciary will
be bound completely to the government. The separation of powers
will be completely shelved," said Devlet Bahceli, head of the
opposition Nationalist Movement Party (MHP).
"I fear that Prime Minister Erdogan will sit at the top of
the judiciary as the chief judge."
(Additional reporting by Asli Kandemir and Daren Butler;
Editing by Tom Heneghan)