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Seized Turkish Opposition Newspaper Changes Its Tune

  • VOA News

Journalists react as riot police enter the headquarters of Turkey's largest-circulation newspaper Zaman in Istanbul, March 4, 2016. The police raid came hours after a court placed it under the management of trustees on Friday.

Journalists react as riot police enter the headquarters of Turkey's largest-circulation newspaper Zaman in Istanbul, March 4, 2016. The police raid came hours after a court placed it under the management of trustees on Friday.

A leading Turkish newspaper that was staunchly opposed to the country's president has printed its first edition since being seized by authorities, and the publication now features a distinctly pro-government slant.

Sunday's edition of Zaman, Turkey's largest-circulation daily, led with an article about what it called the "historical excitement" over a nearly-completed bridge project. The front page also prominently featured a photograph of a smiling President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

There was little coverage in Sunday's Zaman of the previous day's unrest in Istanbul, where police sprayed tear gas and fired rubber bullets at hundreds of protesters who gathered outside Zaman's offices chanting "free media cannot be silenced."

The crackdown was the latest in a series of actions against opposition media linked to Fethullah Gulen, a Muslim cleric living in exile in the United States whom the Ankara government accuses of treason.

The police action began Friday, when helmeted officers used powerful streams of water and clouds of tear gas to push demonstrators away from the newspaper's headquarters, then cut through a metal fence to occupy the building and install court-appointed trustees.

Zaman's chief editor, Abdulhamit Bilici, addressing his staff before police stormed in, called Friday "a black day for democracy" in Turkey.

The U.S.-based Committee to Protect Journalists spoke out against the Turkish government's action. The head of the rights group, Joel Simon, said, "Turkish authorities should be fulfilling their constitutional obligation to defend press freedom" rather than undermining opposition media with aggressive action.

CPJ has reported Turkey is one of the top jailers of journalists in the world, with government officials taking advantage of laws that can be broadly interpreted to imprison journalists on suspicion of espionage, conspiracy, or defaming the government.

Because of Turkey's geographical position as a bridge between East and West, and as a member of NATO, it has been a valuable ally to the United States and Europe on issues such as the civil war in Syria and the tide of refugees flowing west from Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan. Critics of Turkey's government say the nation's value as an ally keeps Western nations from protesting too loudly about the Ankara's human-rights record.

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