(Adds statement from telecoms watchdog, senior official)
* On campaign trial, Erdogan vows to "wipe out" Twitter
* Regulator says ban follows court orders
* Twitter tells Turks how to keep tweeting
* No plans to block Facebook, other social media -official
By Orhan Coskun
ANKARA, March 21 Turkey's courts have blocked
access to Twitter days before elections as Prime Minister Tayyip
Erdogan battles a corruption scandal that has seen social media
platforms awash with alleged evidence of government wrongdoing.
The ban came hours after a defiant Erdogan, on the campaign
trail ahead of key March 30 local elections, vowed to "wipe out"
Twitter and said he did not care what the international
community had to say about it.
Erdogan's ruling AK Party has already tightened Internet
controls, handed government more influence over the courts, and
reassigned thousands of police and hundreds of prosecutors and
judges as it fights a corruption scandal he has cast as a plot
by political enemies to oust him.
Telecoms watchdog BTK said the social media platform had
been blocked by the courts after complaints were made by
citizens that it was breaching privacy. It said Twitter had
ignored previous requests to remove content.
"Because there was no other choice, access to Twitter was
blocked in line with court decisions to avoid the possible
future victimization of citizens," it said.
San Francisco-based Twitter said it was looking into the
matter but had not issued a formal statement. The company did
publish a tweet addressed to Turkish users instructing them on
how to continue tweeting via SMS text message.
"Twitter, mwitter!," Erdogan told thousands of supporters at
a rally late on Thursday, in a phrase translating roughly as
"We will wipe out all of these," said Erdogan, who has cast
the corruption scandal as part of a smear campaign by his
"The international community can say this, can say that. I
don't care at all. Everyone will see how powerful the Republic
of Turkey is," he said in a characteristically unyielding tone.
Twitter users in Turkey began reporting widespread outages
overnight. Some users trying to open the Twitter.com website
were taken to a statement apparently from another regulator
(TIB) citing four court orders as the basis for the ban.
The corruption investigation became public on Dec. 17 when
police detained the sons of three cabinet ministers and
businessmen close to Erdogan. The three ministers resigned a
week later, while others were removed in a cabinet reshuffle.
At an extraordinary session on Wednesday, parliament's
speaker blocked opposition pleas to have a prosecutor's report
with allegations against the former ministers read out.
A document purporting to be that report appeared on Twitter
last week. It included alleged transcripts of wiretapped phone
conversations, pictures from physical surveillance and pictures
of official documents accusing the former ministers and two of
their sons of involvement with an Iranian businessman in a
bribery and smuggling racket.
Reuters has not been able to verify the authenticity of the
Turkish Internet users were quick to come up with ways to
circumvent the block. The hashtag #TwitterisblockedinTurkey
quickly moved among the top trending globally.
The disruption sparked a virtual uproar, with many comparing
Turkey to Iran and North Korea, where social media platforms are
There were also calls to take to the street to protest,
although some users equally called for calm.
Nazli Ilicak, a columnist who used to work for the
pro-government Sabah newspaper described the move as "a civil
coup" in an interview on broadcaster CNN Turk.
The move was only the latest clash between Turkey's ruling
party and social media companies including Google,
Facebook and Twitter.
After a series of popular protests partly fuelled by Twitter
last summer, Erdogan slammed the service as "a scourge."
Shortly thereafter a government minister asked Twitter to
establish an office in Turkey so that it could better
communicate requests to take down content or hold the company
accountable to Turkish law. Twitter did not respond to the
Erdogan said two weeks ago that Turkey could also ban
Facebook and YouTube, which he says have been abused by his
enemies after a stream of audio recordings purportedly revealing
corruption in his inner circle emerged online.
But a senior official said on Friday there were no immediate
plans to do so.
"The path was taken to block access within the framework of
a court decision because of the failure to overcome the problem
with the management of Twitter," the official said.
"At the moment there is no such a decision for Facebook and
other social media," he told Reuters.
(Additional reporting by Seda Sezer in Istanbul, Humeyra Pamuk
in Ankara and Edwin Chan in San Francisco; Writing by Nick
Tattersall in Ankara; Editing by Catherine Evans)