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Turkish president criticizes release of journalists

ISTANBUL (AVRUPA TIMES)-Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Sunday criticized a court decision to free two journalists accused of spying.


Can Dundar and Erdem Gul, senior journalists at the Cumhuriyet newspaper, were released from jail Friday after the Constitutional Court decided their rights had been violated. They were arrested in November over allegations including espionage, attempting to overthrow the government and supporting terrorism.


“I keep silent [on] the decision of the Constitutional Court but do not abide by the decision,” Erdogan said. “In my opinion, [the] media should not have unlimited freedom. There is no absolute freedom anywhere in the world media as well.”


Speaking at a news conference at Ataturk International Airport ahead of a visit to west Africa, the president said he always supported freedom of speech.


“I need to repeat that this case is not linked to freedom of expression whatsoever,” he said. “This is an espionage case.”


The president also outlined the ongoing nature of the case, which is scheduled to go to trial on March 26. “This is not a decision of acquittal, this is a release order,” he said.


Erdogan said the Justice and Development (AK) Party had supported the media during its 14 years in office. “During our era, they were out of prison,” he said, referring to journalists. “We have made many legal regulations to open their way.”


Dundar, the newspaper’s editor-in-chief, and Gul, its Ankara bureau chief, were arrested after the newspaper published images in May purportedly showing shells and ammunition loaded on Syria-bound trucks belonging to Turkey's National Intelligence Organization (MIT). They have been held on remand in prison since their arrests.


Erdogan will visit Ivory Coast, Ghana, Nigeria and Guinea during his trip.


Erdogan launched his sub-Saharan Africa tour with a visit to Senegal last month. He travelled to Ivory Coast on Sunday and will finish in Guinea on March 3.


The visit is aimed at boosting Turkey’s relations with Africa. The continent has been the target of Turkish expansion since 1998 and 2005 was a benchmark year for Turkey's Africa aims.


“There is an important economic potential between Turkey and Africa,” Erdogan said, reiterating Turkey's strategic goals in Africa.


“The process was started in 2005. Turkey has reached 39 Turkish embassies [in Africa] from 12 during this period. Our efforts have been continuing to increase this number.”


The president is expected to oversee agreements in education, healthcare and infrastructure, including airport and port projects.


“I will meet with Nigeria’s president Muhammadu Buhari during my Nigeria visit, we will discuss the regional and global issues and we will have chance to improve our bilateral relations,” Erdogan said.

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