Thousands of people gathered Sunday in central Istanbul to protest the government's plan to implement an Internet-filtering system this August.

Carrying posters reading "Free banned links now" and "Hands off our Internet," the crowd continually applauded to show their objection, and held sit-down strikes during their two-hour march from Taksim Square to Tünel at the end of Istiklal Avenue.

The government has said the filtering system will offer users the option of choosing between varying levels of access to the Internet with the main goal being to protect children from indecent content. Critics, however, have expressed doubt about the government's intentions.

The group included writers from "Ekşi sözlük" (Sour Dictionary) electronic platform. They said the Prime Ministry's Information Technologies Board, or BTK, plans to restrict people's right to reach unbiased information with the online-filtering system.

"For families who want to protect their children, there are plenty of filtering systems that are presently provided free of charge. Therefore I am against this system's compulsory application. We do not want filtering systems tracing people 24 hours a week," said protester Emre Halman, age 25.

Internet users who were previously accessing forbidden websites through altering their DNS measures would no longer reach those sites under the new regulation, said Ece Öztürk, an Ekşi Sözlük writer; he said that people will not have a chance to know which websites are censored in the four packages: standard, family, children and domestic.

"Every user will be given a username when choosing one of those packages. However, as we do not know what is censored, we will be penalized," said Öztürk.

On the other hand, some protesters said that people should have the freedom to decide what is harmful for them, and this application does not have any difference from wiretapping. "There are so many forbidden websites that people enter by pretending to be connecting from abroad. People's freedom of choice will be lost. This will resemble wiretapping because people's every move will be traced," said protester Alper Halıcı, also age 25.

Many protesters said that the conservative values of the BTK have become widespread with the limitation of certain words. "A conservative part of society tries to examine the sites we enter. We are against restrictions in an atmosphere where instead there should be freedom," said Serkan Ökter, an IT counselor, age 35.

The application is not only related to preventing pornographic sites, said protester D.Y., who asked to be identified only by his initials; he said he believed that overall, the packages are meant to impose control over people.

"The closure of 'Ekşi Sözlük' increased the reactions toward the BTK. Nevertheless, people should have demonstrated the biggest reaction back then, since the regulation was passed in February," said Mustafa Avcı, age 25, another Sour Dictionary writer. "People can still break the ban by using more sophisticated software, such as VPN networks from the United States."

Police closed the square to protesters in Antalya

Meanwhile, some 300 protesters in Antalya who gathered in small groups in different spots of the city and were supposed to meet at the city's Republic Square were forbidden to gather in the square by the police, for "having no permission to protest." A group of protesters then stood still for a minute, protesting police's refusing to allow them walk to the square.

The protesters then kept marching in the city's main streets, dragging keyboards and sometimes breaking them. They were also supported by people passing in their cars, who honked their horns in signs of support. The protesters defined the Internet-filtering system as "censorship," and protested with "V for Vendetta" masks. They also shouted slogans saying, "They said there is censorship, we came [to protest]" and "No quota, no limit, no censorship."

People have protested the Internet-filtering system by marching in more than 40 Turkish provinces across the country. However, the turn out in Ankara and other locations was quite low.


Adil Gür of the A&G Company has commented about the upcoming general elections. According to surveys carried out by the company, the ruling Justice & Development (AK) Party will get 45-50 percent of votes. "The Republican People's Party (CHP) can reach 30 percent and the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) can exceed the electoral threshold of 10 percent. The AK Party will win the elections in some provinces in the western and southern parts of Turkey. The Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) can have 28-32 seats at the parliament," he said.


The main opposition Republican People's Party (CHP) chairman Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu said that former ministers who were not included in the candidate list of the ruling Justice and Development (AK) Party for the upcoming general elections on the ground that they were involved in acts of corruption should make statements on the matter. Kılıçdaroğlu said that Kürşad Tuzmen, Hilmi Güler, Osman Pepe and Kemal Unakıtan were among the names not included in the list, stating if they did not make a statement, they would admit that they were involved in corruption.


All the opposition has united against the ruling party ahead of the upcoming elections, the prime minister said, describing it as "alliance of chaos" hand in hand with the alleged Ergenekon gang.

"They are walking together with the Ergenekon," Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan claimed Sunday in his address to voters in Uşak. Erdoğan referred to the choice of the two main opposition parties, the Republican People's Party, or CHP, and the Nationalist Movement Party, or MHP, to nominate figures having alleged links with a gang, which was established to topple the government in 2003 and 2004.

The alliance, Erdoğan said, is not limited to the alleged Ergenekon gang. The MHP and the pro-Kurdish Peace and Development Party, or BDP, have also tried to ally at some point, recalling the pro-Kurdish party's backing of the nationalist party over an ongoing sex tape scandal. "I have been made aware of a commentary posted on the website of a news agency closely linked with the Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK," accusing them of creating a chaotic atmosphere in Turkey just to weaken the government.

Criticizing former President Süleyman Demirel for being a mentor of the CHP, Erdoğan said the veteran politician's move was a betrayal to Adnan Menderes, a legendary center-right politician who was executed by the junta after a coup in 1961. "Did you know this? It seems the CHP on the left, and Demirel on the right were the guards of the status quo for years.

"What kind of an alliance is this? What kind of cooperation? Those who have not a single project for Turkey, those who exploit chaos have united against the AKP."

A question to Kılıçdaroğlu

"I will ask Kılıçdaroğlu a question. Today is Sunday, so its not too hard but I expect him to answer this week," Erdoğan said, demanding the CHP chief to disclose who informed him about a fake e-mail that was sent to university exam chief on behalf of a state minister. "Who made this joke to you? Who gave you this fake e-mail? Our security forces are looking into this and we will find out who sent this e-mail. But what makes us curious is the one who made this joke to you," he said.

Repeating his assertions that Kılıçdaroğlu hired dozens of his wife's and his relatives for the Social Security Directorate when he was the chief of that institution, Erdoğan said, "We will continue to investigate what you did during your term, and how you caused the bankruptcy of the institution."


Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu said that Turkey had rebuilt itself and should maintain the reform process till 2023. "If we fail to complete our historical responsibilities in our region, and our restoration process, we can face a serious crisis. Therefore, prior to the next decade, we need to take solid steps which will shape the 21st century. Turkey has taken serious steps in its democratization by foreseeing the public uprisings in the Middle East. We also succeeded in putting an end to the concept of domestic threat. Now, there is no domestic threat, just domestic potential."


After 12 terrorists were killed in southeastern province of Şırnak, the PKK declared a three-day period of mourning for them. Several demonstrations were held in the region. A group of people wanted to take the bodies of the killed terrorists, but soldiers prevented them from doing so. Security forces are taking necessary measures in the region.


Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has expressed concern that Syria might split along sectarian lines as tensions continue to grow in Turkey's southern neighbor.

"We have concerns that in Syria sectarian clashes might erupt that could split the country. We do not want to see such a thing," Erdoğan told reporters during a visit to the governor's office in the Black Sea province of Rize, the Anatolia News Agency reported on Saturday.

Erdoğan said the last time he talked to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad was nearly 10 days ago, adding however that the Turkish ambassador in Damascus was in continual contact with the Syrian government.

"Syria is like a domestic issue for us because we have an 850-kilometer border as well as strong ties of kinship. I hope that Syria will overcome these dire times quickly," Erdoğan said, repeating previous statements he has made on the issue.

Earlier the prime minister said it was premature to say whether al-Assad should quit. Erdoğan, in an interview aired on the Bloomberg U.S. television channel late Thursday, described al-Assad as a "good friend" and said Ankara had begun applying pressure for reform even before the wave of uprisings started in Arab countries.

Turkey, whose ties with Syria have flourished in recent years, has said that it opposes foreign intervention in its southern neighbor, and that the unrest-stricken country should solve its own problems. Last month, Turkish envoys held talks with al-Assad in Damascus as part of Ankara's efforts to cajole him into reform.

Up to 850 people have been killed and at least 8,000 arrested since the protests started in mid-March, human rights groups say. The regime has blamed the deadly violence on "armed terrorist gangs," and has kept the foreign media out, Agence France-Presse reported.

An editorial with the headline "Game Over" appeared Sunday in the government newspaper Tishrin, declaring that it was clear the revolt was losing steam.


Unrest in the country's Southeastern Anatolia region has begun to grow visibly in the wake over the weekend of the killing of 12 suspected terrorists, sparking more tension between locals and security forces ahead of the June 12 elections.

"To shape the results in the upcoming elections, to get 3-5 more points in votes, they play not only with the Kurds, but with all the social textures of Turkey. We are very concerned with this blindness, as the outcome of this method can lead to a civil war," Sırrı Sakık, a parliament member running as an independent with the support of the pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party, or BDP, told Hürriyet Daily News on Sunday.

The incidents that have shaken the entire region began after security forces killed at least 12 members of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK, when they were spotted crossing the border from Iraq. Earlier, the Anatolia News Agency reported that a soldier was killed in a land mine explosion in the province of Hakkari.

The Fırat news agency, known to have links to the outlawed PKK, said that five Turkish soldiers were killed in retaliation Subday in the Uludere province of Hakkari. There was no confirmation from the Chief of the General Staff on the news.

Military operations against the PKK, launched on Thursday, sparked local reactions in many different places in the Southeastern Anatolia region, where the population is predominantly ethnically Kurdish. The PKK and local people have declared a three-day mourning period, while shopkeepers did not open their shops.

A group of officials backed by the Peace and Democracy Party, or BDP, wanted to cross the Iraqi border to get to the funerals of three PKK members. Hasip Kaplan, an independent deputy who is running for another term in parliament, contacted security officers to get permission.

"This is a massacre and a war crime. We will carry our hatred to the streets," Filiz Koçali, co-chairperson of the BDP, told reporters in Diyarbakır.

She said the police did not allow BDP-backed candidates and her to make press statements in Diyarbakır.

Government increases tension

Sırrı Sakık said tension was increased by the government on purpose, recalling the unilateral PKK decision to launch an 'inaction period' until mid-June.

"Why have the military and the police started to attack now?" he asked, implying that the operations were in fact for the benefit of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.

Recalling Erdoğan's rhetoric denying the existence of a Kurdish problem and that the current government was not different from earlier ones in trying to resolve the question "with blood," Sakık also said: "the PKK could retaliate against the military operations. We know this from the experiences in the past… the politicians are responsible."

AKP in defense

Responding to claims that tension would work to the advantage of the ruling party, a Justice and Development Party, or AKP, candidate from Diyarbakır said that it was, in fact, good for the Kurdish and the nationalist party.

"There is a game now, aiming to escalate tension, affect the results of the elections, and keep the Nationalist Movement Party, or MHP, above the election threshold. They want to decrease the number of AKP deputies to the point where they lose the ability to change the constitution," Galip Ensarioğlu a Kurdish candidate and deputy from AKP told the Daily News on Sunday.

Ensarioğlu said all such tension was aimed at killing the hopes of the new parliament to write the new constitution, which could solve the Kurdish issue.

CHP calls for non-violence

Any news of deaths has been harming the security of the elections, a main opposition party candidate of Kurdish origins said.

"We desire an environment without clashes, where neither soldiers nor members of the PKK are dying," Sezgin Tanrıkulu, candidate deputy of the Republican People's Party, or CHP, told the Daily News.

"An atmosphere of non-violence should be provided," Tanrıkulu said, stressing that any clashes between the PKK and military which could end in death would seriously harm the election environment.

"The Kurdish problem should no longer be an issue of politics. It should be above politics. Political parties must immediately compromise on a solution and keep society far away from tension," he said.

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Related Topics:  Threats to Free Speech, Turkey
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