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Plastic bullets fired as hundreds protest Turkey internet restrictions

Critics say the planned new laws would expand the government’s already tight grip on the web.

RIOT POLICE HAVE fired plastic bullets, tear gas and water cannons at hundreds of people in Istanbul protesting a government plan to expand controls over the public’s use of the internet.

Police took action yesterday after some protesters hurled firebombs at officers. Plainclothes police were seen arresting some demonstrators and escorting them to police vehicles. There weren’t any immediate reports of injuries.

Officers broke up groups of protesters who gathered at the city’s main hub, Taksim, and along a main street to denounce the draft bill that would allow Turkey’s telecommunications authority to block websites or remove content accused of privacy violations without a court decision, and force service providers to keep Internet users’ data for two years.

Critics say that would expand the government’s already tight grip on the internet. The government rejects accusations of censorship, saying the move aims to protect privacy.

The measure comes as Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s government is fighting a corruption probe targeting people close to him — the worst crisis it has faced during its 11 years in power. Erdogan says the probe is a conspiracy orchestrated by followers of an Islamic movement led by US -based cleric Fethullah Gulen to discredit the government ahead of local elections in March.

The new Internet controls come as alleged police documents and photographs linked to the corruption probe have been leaked through the internet.

During yesterday’s protest, demonstrators shouted slogans calling on the government to resign over the scandal and held up signs that read: “Don’t touch my internet.”

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[Image: Emrah Gurel/AP/Press Association Images]

Hundreds of people held a similar protest in the capital, Ankara. No violence was reported.

The European Court of Human Rights has said that Turkey’s existing Internet regulations were against freedom of expression. Around 40,000 websites — many of them pornographic sites — are blocked in Turkey, according to Engelli Web, a site which monitors banned websites.

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