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Turkey's president attacks newspaper

June 1, 2015

Turkey's president has threatened a daily which published a video it alleged showed state intelligence helping send weapons to Syria. The paper's editor is under investigation for a possible breach of anti-terror laws.

Portrait of Turkish President Erdogan
Image: picture-alliance/RIA Novosti/dpa

Speaking to state-run television broadcaster TRT, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan attacked the Cumhuriyet newspaper for publishing footage which the daily alleged showed trucks belonging to the state intelligence agency MIT carrying weapons to rebels in Syria.

"The individual who has reported this as an exclusive story will pay a high price for this," Erdogan said in a televised interview late Sunday, adding "I will not let this go."

The target of Erdogan's threats, Cumhuriyet editor Can Dundar, defended the newspaper's actions via Twitter.

"We are not civil servants, but journalists. Our duty is not to hide the state's dirty secrets but to call it to account in the name of the people," he wrote.

Allegations of hidden weapons

Cumhuriyet said the photos and video in question were taken on January 19, 2014, but did not say how it had obtained it. The footage showed inspectors searching crates in the trucks, which according to the daily contained mortar shells, ammunition and grenade launchers hidden under boxes of antibiotics and marked as "fragile."

The newspaper said it was proof that Turkey was arming rebels in Syria fighting to oust President Bashar al-Assad, a claim the Turkish government strongly rejects.

Turkey is a key transit country for foreign fighters heading to join Syria's multi-faceted war in many armed groups, including the militant "Islamic State" group.

The video was published Friday, days ahead of Turkey's upcoming parliamentary elections. Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu told the AFP news agency the release of the images was an election ploy and denounced what he called "illegal action" against Turkey's interests. Davutoglu said the trucks in question were carrying aid for the Turkmen minority in Syria.

Istanbul prosecutors swiftly launched an investigation into Cumhuriyet on charges of "obtaining information on state security," "political and military espionage" and "propaganda for a terrorist organization," AFP reported.

Dundar is under investigation for possible breaches of anti-terror laws.

Erdogan has had a rocky relationship with journalists and social media outlets in Turkey, both as president and in his previous role as the country's prime minister, including brief bans on Twitter, Facebook and YouTube.

se/kms (AFP, Reuters, AP)