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Twitter executives meet Turkish officials amid free speech row

Placards read 'Do not touch my Twitter ', 'Communication right is a basic human right' and 'Censorship to Internet! A dream comes true' during a demonstration in Ankara on March 22, 2014
Placards read "Do not touch my Twitter ", "Communication right is a basic human right" and "Censorship to Internet! A dream comes true" during a demonstration in Ankara on March 22, 2014

Twitter executives met Turkish government officials for talks Monday amid accusations of tax evasion by Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and a row over content on the social media site.

They are the first direct talks since Ankara banned access to the site last month over leaks on the social network implicating Erdogan's inner circle in corruption, and accusations by the government that Twitter ignored various court orders to remove some links deemed illegal.

"We will specifically ask Twitter to follow court orders," Tayfun Acarer, the head of Turkey's Communication Technologies Institution (BTK), was quoted as saying by the private NTV television as he headed to the meeting in the capital Ankara.

After hours of talks, which were attended by Colin Crowell, Twitter's head of global public policy, Acarer described the meeting as "positive", but said that they would not make any statement.

Ankara had to lift the highly criticised ban on April 3 after its top court ruled the blockade breached the right to free speech.

Turkey's EU Affairs Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu (C) speaks to reporters in Ankara on April 14, 2014
Turkey's EU Affairs Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu (C) speaks to reporters in Ankara on April 14, 2014

But Erdogan voiced sharp criticism of the Constitutional Court ruling and on Saturday accused the micro-blogging site of tax evasion.

"Twitter, YouTube and Facebook are international companies established for profit and making money," Erdogan said. "Twitter is at the same time a tax evader. We will go after it."

The government urges San Francisco-based Twitter, which has no operational base in Turkey, to open an office and pay Turkish taxes.

"Twitter should have an office in Turkey," Mevlut Cavusoglu, Turkey's minister for European Union affairs, said on Monday.

"People should have the right to defence when they go to court and should be able to challenge (court decisions) at a higher court," he told reporters in Ankara.

People protest in Ankara, on March 21, 2014 against Turkey's Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan after the government blocked access to Twitter
People hold placards as they protest against Turkey's Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan after the government blocked access to Twitter in Ankara, on March 21, 2014

The ban on Twitter was among a wider crackdown on social media ahead of local elections held on March 30, in which Erdogan's Justice and Development Party scored a crushing victory despite graft claims.

A similar ban on YouTube, which was imposed in March after the video-sharing site was used to spread an audio recording of high-level security talks on Syria, remains in place despite two court rulings.

Ankara's NATO allies and international human rights groups have deplored the bans as a setback to freedom of expression in Turkey, which has long harboured ambitions of joining the EU.

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