Police search premises of Turkish opposition business group

AP News
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Posted: Sep 01, 2015 12:09 PM

ANKARA, Turkey (AP) — Police on Tuesday searched the premises of a business and media group close to a U.S.-based moderate Islamic cleric whom the government accuses of trying to destabilize it and detained six company officials, state media reported.

Critics denounced the action as a government crackdown on opposition voices ahead of an election Nov. 1.

Police in Ankara searched 23 companies belonging to Koza Ipek Holding over suspicion of providing financial assistance to the movement led by Fethullah Gulen, the state-run Anadolu Agency reported. It said six people were taken into custody for questioning. The company's chief executive officer, who was abroad, was not detained but his home was searched, the agency said.

Koza Ipek Holding owns opposition television stations Bugun TV and Kanal Turk, the Bugun and Millet newspapers and other business interests.

The operation came hours after Bugun published photographs that it claimed showed the clandestine shipment of materials used to make arms to Islamic State militants in Syria, although it was not clear if the police operation was related to the claims. The Associated Press cannot verify the authenticity of the images and Turkey strongly denies accusations that it has aided the IS group.

Kemal Kilicdaroglu, leader of the main opposition party, called the police operation an attempt to muzzle dissent.

"We cannot speak of democracy in a country where the media is being silenced," Kilicdaroglu said.

A few hundred people protested the police search, chanting: "The free press cannot be silenced!"

The Koza Ipek group is linked to the Gulen's movement, which the government accuses of orchestrating a vast corruption scandal in 2013 with the aim of toppling the regime. Gulen has rejected the accusation that it was behind the scandal that implicated President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's close associates.

The government has dismissed the graft scandal as an attempted coup and has labeled the group a "terrorist organization" although the movement is not known to have been involved in any violent acts.

Hundreds of police and judiciary officials suspected of ties to the movement have been dismissed. In May, Turkey's banking regulator seized a bank associated with the movement.