Turkey Blocks YouTube After Syria Incursion Plans Leaked

Turkey defended its decision to block YouTube after a leaked recording of a meeting where top officials discussed a possible military incursion into Syria appeared on the site.

Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu today equated the leak to an “attack on Turkey’s borders” in an interview with NTV television. Davutoglu said he had chaired the meeting with the head of national intelligence and other military and diplomatic officials to discuss how to respond to threats by Islamist militants against an enclave of Turkish territory inside Syria. Some sections of the tape were “doctored,” the foreign ministry said in a statement yesterday.

The leaked tape is the latest in a series of recordings posted anonymously on the Internet since December, some of them allegedly from a police investigation, which have embroiled Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan in a corruption scandal and led to the departure of four cabinet ministers. It comes before weekend local elections, where Erdogan is seeking a victory that he says will lay to rest the allegations of graft.

Turkey's Political Divide

The premier blames supporters of U.S.-based Islamic cleric Fethullah Gulen inside the police and judiciary for instigating the leaks to weaken his government.

Turkey’s telecommunications authority said yesterday it had blocked access to YouTube. The government also imposed a temporary ban on news about the recording, according to Turkey’s broadcasting watchdog.

Shah’s Tomb

Turkey’s benchmark stock index rose 1.9 percent to 68,327.44 at 12:07 p.m. today. The lira dropped 0.4 percent to 2.1939 against the dollar in Istanbul.

Senior officials met to discuss policy on Syria after reports that Islamist militants had threatened to attack the tomb of Suleyman Shah. The 1 hectare (2.47 acre) site on the Euphrates River has been Turkish territory since a 1921 treaty signed with colonial power France and later accepted by Syria. Turkey has reinforced its military positions along the border.

Erdogan attacked the latest leak at an election rally in Diyarbakir yesterday, calling it “unethical, sordid and contemptible.” He vowed to bring the perpetrators to justice, saying: “We’ll go after them in their lairs.”

Under fire since the corruption investigation burst into the open in December, he has purged dozens of prosecutors and thousands of police, as well as imposing media curbs. Yesterday’s YouTube shutdown follows similar measures against Twitter last week. The government says some of the recordings were assembled by montage.

‘Survival Battle’

“The corruption scandal was not enough to topple him, now they reveal some state secrets,” said Bayram Balci, a visiting scholar at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Washington, in an e-mailed response to questions. “I have a doubt about the authenticity of all what we see and hear: the current battle is a survival battle for both sides.”

European Union officials, who had criticized the Twitter ban, slammed the restriction on YouTube. Neelie Kroes, vice president of the European Commission, called it “another desperate and depressing move” in a post on Twitter.

Marie Harf, a spokeswoman for the U.S. State Department, declined to comment on the contents of the leaked recording when asked at a press conference yesterday.

“By banning Turkish social media, the government is running the risk of exiling itself from the global economy,” said James Jeffrey, a former U.S. ambassador to Turkey and now a fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. “Turkey’s success has been based on integrating into the global economy.”

Jet Downed

In the last days before Sunday’s vote, Erdogan’s government has threatened military action in Syria, where it’s supporting rebels fighting to oust President Bashar al-Assad, to protect the Suleyman Shah site. Turkey also shot down a Syrian warplane on March 23, saying it violated Turkish airspace. As Erdogan vowed to defend Turkish interests, his political rivals have accused him of seeking to distract the public from the corruption scandal.

Kemal Kilicdaroglu, leader of the main opposition party, said at a rally in Hatay, near the Syrian border, that the government is responsible for arming and training militants in Syria, which it has denied. He accused the government of “preparing provocations” that would open the way for military intervention, Haberturk news service reported.

To contact the reporter on this story: Andrew J. Barden in Dubai at barden@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Andrew J. Barden at barden@bloomberg.net Mark Williams, Karl Maier

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