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Families torn apart as dozens of French girls join Islamist cause in Syria

posted 13 Oct 2014, 03:59 by Mpelembe Admin   [ updated 13 Oct 2014, 04:09 ]

The recent and dramatic surge in young French girls leaving the country to join jihad in Syria tears apart families who have very little hope to see them returning home.

PARIS, FRANCE (OCTOBER 10, 2014) (REUTERS) - While Western governments have focused on the thousands of male jihadist volunteers who have left for Syria and Iraq, security officials in Europe are expressing alarm about a smaller but steady stream of female groups heading the same way.

France, which is home to Europe's biggest Muslim community, struggles with the flow of would-be jihadists to Syria and French Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuvebelieves almost a thousand French citizens are either already there or trying to go. Among them are dozens of girls and young women from France who have left for jihad in Syria, up from just a handful 10 months ago, French officials say.

Many of the youngest girls are lured with promises of humanitarian work.

It is only once in Syria that they discover their fate: forced marriage to a fighter, strict adherence to Islamic law, a life under surveillance and little hope of returning home,say parents, relatives and radicalisation experts.

They come from all walks of life, from first and second generation immigrants from Muslim countries, from white French backgrounds, from both rich and poor, urban and rural communities, experts say.

Nora and Sahra are among them.

Nora's brother, Foad El Bahty, a French truck driver of Moroccan origin travelled alone through Syria last spring to rescue his 15-year-old sister from an Islamist group she said was holding her captive.

In a interview with Reuters on October 6, El Bahty said he is convinced that his sister Nora, whom he described as an impressionable teen who loved Disney movies before leaving for Syria one day in January, stayed on because she was threatened with execution by the French-speaking commander, or emir, of the group she joined.

El Bahty described the moving moment when he finally stood face to face with his sister and said they could not stop crying.

"They took me to my sister the day after, it was 11.30pm, I saw my sister like on the picture. It was like a cold shower. She started to cry, I was crying, I had a lot of questions to ask, I did not ask any. Frankly, I forgot everything. We started to cry, to hold each other in our hands, in our arms. We were reassuring each other. She couldn't stop holding on to me, she was holding me tight. At some point I said: "So, are you coming back with me?" but she started to bang her head against a wall saying "I can't, I can't, I can't." At the beginning it made me furious, I told her "With all I did for you, now you don't want to come?" But she kept saying "I can't, I can't, I can't" and she started to bang her head against the wall, she was crying," El Bahty said.

He said Nora had told him her first location was in Aleppo but declined to give the location of their second encounter because he said French police had asked him not to reveal details relevant to investigations. He said a conversation he overheard between his sister and the emir suggested she was warned to stay.

Making up about 10 percent of all departures for Islamist-held areas, according to government officials and terrorism experts, young women are seen as prizes for fighters keen to marry.

His quest to bring her home took him to Turkey's border with Syria, where he was taken in by Islamist militants and driven to a city he declined to name due to the sensitive nature of the information.

The town was "full" of foreigners, each nationality having its own supply stores, including one area that was totally French-speaking, he said.

"I found myself in a place where there were only French people. It was like being inFrance, it was France. The first thing that struck me is the fact that people say there are about 15 girls under 18 over there. When I arrived there, I had to stop myself laughing. We were far away from 15, there were a lot of groups, and a lot of French speakers. There were a lot of nationalities, some Americans, some Australians, some British, they had stores, there were Uzbek people too, Chechens, Afghans, Chinese, Koreans, Japanese, each in their Katiba," he said.

El Bahty says his sister currently lives with the close aide of an emir and is in charge of daycare for militants' children.

She had earlier escaped a forced marriage arranged by a French recruiter who has since returned to France and is being held in custody.

Jonathan Ali Mehenni, whose sister Sahra disappeared from their home in southern France seven months ago, says he believes his sister, 17, also lives under strict surveillance.

Her family has spoken to her only twice since she left and communicates a bit via social media.

The young girl married a 25-year-old Tunisian just days after she got to Syria.

Ali Mehenni believes that someone is telling her what to say and says her family no longer knows if she is the one posting the messages.

She says she doesn't plan to return to France.

"She doesn't say she is disappointed. She says she is fine where she is, that she doesn't want to come back, that everything is nice over there. I don't understand, I don't understand," Ali Mehenni said.

As with other girls, Nora and Sahra's embrace of radical Islam came as a shock to their families, who are not which are not strictly observant.

None of the girls showed any signs of their plans in the days before leaving.

"I spoke with her the day before she left, we were kidding, we were joking on the phone, we spoke totally normally like a brother and a sister talk together, there was nothing that could have made us worry about such or such thing, everything was normal, when my father dropped her at school on March 11, everything was normal,"Ali Mehenni said.

French anthropologist Dounia Bouzar is the author of "They are seeking Paradise, They've found Hell", a new book that traces the paths of those like Nora and Sahra.

She follows 130 families concerned by the radicalisation of their children and says that while many women being radicalised hail from moderate Muslim households, all kinds of religious and social backgrounds are represented.

"Until now, "radical Islam" affected mainly boys, those we call "sensitive boys", unemployed and facing family problems. Since March of this year, I have been called by a large number of mothers who have talked about their enrolled daughters. These mothers are teachers, lawyers, public employees, coming very often from atheist families, from families which have nothing to do with the history or the memory of Islam," Bouzar said.

She runs an anti-radicalisation group that focuses on stopping teens from leaving because the likelihood of getting a young woman back from Islamic State or other Islamist groups she says is nearly non-existent.

"The truth is that no girl has returned alive until now, but that is not our last word. But for the moment, no girl has been able to escape alive," she added.

While women do not fight -- although some form police units -- their homes are near combat zones and exposed to bombing from coalition warplanes fighting the Islamic State. Women have little hope of escaping if they change their minds.

Oscar Pistorius could be sentenced to up to 15 years in prison on Oct 13, legal expert says

posted 12 Oct 2014, 08:46 by Mpelembe Admin   [ updated 12 Oct 2014, 08:47 ]

Olympic and Paralympic track star Oscar Pistorius is to appear in court in Pretoria on October 13 for a much anticipated sentence for culpable homicide -- which could carry up to 15 years in prison, says a legal expert.

PRETORIA, SOUTH AFRICA  (REUTERS) - Olympic and Paralympic track star Oscar Pistorius is set to appear at the Pretoria High Court on Monday (October 13) to hear a sentence for culpable homicide after escaping the more serious charge of murder for the killing of his girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp.

The 27-year-old double amputee, who became one of the biggest names in world athletics, stood impassively in the dock, his hands folded in front of him, as Judge Thokozile Masipa delivered her verdict last month.

Pistorius was also convicted of firing a pistol under the table of a packed Johannesburg restaurant but cleared of two other firearms charges - illegal possession of ammunition and firing a pistol out of the sun-roof of a car.

Masipa based her decision of culpable homicide on the reasoning that Pistorius had acted negligently when he fired four shots from a 9mm pistol into a toilet door in his luxury Pretoria home, killing Steenkamp, who was behind it, almost instantly.

He said it was a tragic error, and that he had believed he was shooting at an intruder.

Culpable homicide - South Africa's equivalent of manslaughter - carries up to 15 years in prison but, given Pistorius' lack of previous convictions, legal experts said he could avoid a custodial sentence altogether.

According to legal practitioner Mariette Smith, a prison term would be the most severe and for many South Africans, the most anticipated after what they say is a somewhat anti-climatic judgement.

"Since he has been convicted of culpable homicide, the court has various sentence options. The harshest of that is incarceration, meaning a prison term that can depend on any period, there's no minimum or no maximum except it cannot exceed 15 years," Smith said.

Masipa's decision sparked anger outside the court, particularly among groups campaigning for women's rights in a country with high levels of violent crime against women and children.

The verdict has also forced democratic South Africa to ask itself some uncomfortable questions about race and inequality, in a country where whites and blacks still inhabit largely different worlds, two decades after the end of apartheid.

One aspect of the ruling has also sparked legal controversy, turning ordinary South Africans into overnight armchair experts on the vexed issue of 'dolus eventualis', a concept of intent that holds a person responsible for the foreseeable consequences of their actions.

While Masipa ruled that prosecutors had failed to prove explicit premeditation to kill Steenkamp - a decision that had been anticipated by many legal experts - she also cleared Pistorius of the lesser charge of murder in the heat of the moment.

She justified the verdict by saying it had not been proven that Pistorius had intended to kill the person behind the door, let alone Steenkamp.

"What will count in his favour is the fact that this act was committed due to negligence. Similar to a vehicle accident due to human error a death occurs. Now the question has to be asked, does this person have to be removed from society? Is he a threat to society, can he still function within a normal society without further repercussions?" Smith said.

Smith said Pistorius also had elements in his favour which could lessen the severity of the sentence.

"Mitigating factors as we have heard in the trial, of course, is the fact he is a paraplegic. Secondly, he is a first offender. He is being convicted of two charges, one being the culpable homicide and secondly the offence of discharging the firearm in a municipal area. Both of those sentences do not automatically carry a prison term," she said.

Before the shooting, Pistorius was a symbol of triumph over adversity, recovering from having both his legs amputated as a baby to win six gold medals at three Paralympics running on carbon-fibre prosthetics, earning the nickname 'Blade Runner'.

Nigeria marks six months since abduction of schoolgirls by Boko Haram

posted 12 Oct 2014, 04:42 by Mpelembe Admin   [ updated 12 Oct 2014, 08:41 ]

Six months has passed since Boko Haram militants kidnapped more than 200 schoolgirls from a Nigerian school, and there has been little word on their fate ever since.

BORNO, LAGOS AND ABUJA, NIGERIA  (REUTERS / BOKO HARAM HANDOUT / CHANNELS TV) -  More than 200 Nigerian schoolgirls were kidnapped from a village by Islamist militants Boko Haram in April, sparking a worldwide outcry, but there has been little word on their fate ever since.

Boko Haram gunmen carried away some 270 girls and women, aged from 13 to over 20, when they raided the Chibok school in northeast Nigeria near the Cameroon border.

More than 50 eventually escaped, but at least 200 remain in captivity, as do scores of other girls kidnapped previously.

Tuesday (October 14) marks six months since the girls' abduction, and the "Bring Back Our Girls" campaign group plans to continue its months-long sit-in protests and unrelenting call for their rescue.

"Bring Back Our Girls" group is calling for the Nigerian government to take the necessary steps in ensuring the girls are rescued, according to its media coordinator, Bukky Shonibare.

In May Boko Haram militants offered a prisoner swap to release the girls, but the proposal was rejected by the government.

Boko Haram, whose violent five-year campaign to reinstate a mediaeval Islamic caliphate in religiously mixed Nigeria has killed thousands, has in the past two months progressed from bombings, raids and kidnappings to trying to seize territory in remote areas near the Cameroonborder, possibly inspired by similar moves by Sunni Islamist militants in Iraq and Syria.

The military has had mixed results trying to push back the militants, and low morale, a lack of discipline and poor equipment have hurt its ability to fight effectively.

Boko Haram is seen as the number one security threat to Africa's top economy and oil producer, and what began as a grassroots movement has rapidly lost popular support as it becomes more bloodthirsty.

Its tactic - kidnapping boys and forcing them to fight and abducting girls as sex slaves - is a chilling echo of Ugandan rebel Joseph Kony's Lord's Resistance Army, which has operated in Uganda,South Sudan and central Africa for decades.

California woman freed after 17 years, declared innocent of murder

posted 11 Oct 2014, 06:24 by Mpelembe Admin   [ updated 11 Oct 2014, 06:25 ]

California woman who spent 17 years in jail for murder is freed after her conviction is overturned by a Los Angeles judge.

LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIAUNITED STATES (OCTOBER 10, 2014) (NBC) -  A 59-year-old California woman who spent 17 years in prison for murder was ordered freed on Friday (October 10) by a judge who said she was wrongly convicted on the basis of testimony by a woman known to be a habitual liar, the Los Angeles Times reported.

The case against Susan Mellen, who was found guilty in 1998 of killing her ex-boyfriend the year before, was thrown out at the request of Los Angeles Countyprosecutors after an investigation by local attorney Deirdre O'Connor turned up major credibility issues with the trial's star prosecution witness.

"The petition is granted. The judgement is vacated. The conviction is overturned and as to Ms. Mellen, the case is dismissed," Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Mark Arnold said in overturning Mellen's conviction.

Mellen broke down and hugged her attorney after judge Arnold announced his decision.

Outside a free Mellen was greeted by friends and family.

O'Connor, who runs a local innocence project based in TorranceCalifornia, could not immediately be reached for comment by Reuters following the hearing.

In a letter to the court asking that the case be thrown out, Los Angeles prosecutors said that the case was largely based on testimony of a woman named June Patti, who told police at the time that Mellen had made incriminating statements to her about the murder.

A special unit of the district attorney's office which investigates habeas corpus cases has since determined that Patti's testimony is "doubtful," prosecutors said in the letter.

The Los Angeles County District Attorney's Office declined to comment on the case, other than providing the letter.

The Times reported that five years before the trial, Patti had been labelled an "unreliable informant" by the TorranceCalifornia, police department after giving them a series of false tips.

Patti, who died in 2006, also was involved in some 2,000 calls or cases in Washington state, where the director of the Skagit County Public Defender's office told the paper that the idea that she was a credible witness was "laughable".

In throwing out Mellen's conviction, Arnold said her attorney at the 1998 trial had failed to properly investigate Patti's credibility, the Times reported.

Anti-EU UKIP party wins first elected seat in British parliament

posted 10 Oct 2014, 07:35 by Mpelembe Admin   [ updated 10 Oct 2014, 07:36 ]

Britain's anti-EU UK Independence Party (UKIP) wins its first elected seat in parliament by a wide margin.

CLACTON-ON-SEA, ENGLAND, UNITED KINGDOM (OCTOBER 9, 2014) (UK POOL) -  Britain's anti-EU UK Independence Party won its first elected seat in parliament on Friday (October 10) by a huge margin and came a close second in another vote, proving it poses a threat to the country's two main parties in a national election next year.

UKIP, which wants a British EU withdrawal and strict curbs on immigration, was expected to do well in both votes. But the unexpectedly wide margin of its victory in the seaside town of Clacton and its strong performance in an election in northern England came as a surprise.

In Clacton, it won 21,113 votes or 60 percent of the vote, up from zero in 2010 when it didn't contest the area. In Heywood and Middleton, in northern England, a traditional stronghold for the oppositionLabour party, it got almost 39 percent of the vote, up from less than 3 percent in 2010.

"There is nothing that we cannot achieve," Douglas CarswellClacton's new UKIP member of parliament, told supporters.

Quoting Abraham Lincoln's Gettysburg Address and the words of John Wycliffe, a 14th Century dissident translator of the bible into English, Carswell said he backed "government of the people, by the people, for the people."

"The governing can no longer presume to know what is right for the governed," he said immediately after he was declared the winner. "Crony corporatism is not the free market. Cosy cartel politics is not meaningful democracy. Change is coming."

There is little prospect of UKIP winning more than a dozen of 650 seats in a national election in May next year. But its growing success threatens to split the centre-right vote and chip away at the traditional left-wing vote too making it harder for any one party to win an outright majority.

That increases the likelihood of a hung parliament, another coalition government, and potential political instability in the world's sixth largest economy.

UKIP's success is also likely to increase pressure on Prime Minister David Cameron to become more Eurosceptic, three years before a referendum on European Union membership which he has promised to hold if re-elected.

Douglas Carswell, a Eurosceptic, defected from Cameron's Conservatives in August, triggering Thursday's (October 9) Clacton vote. He switched allegiance because he said he doubted the prime minister's determination to reform the EU.

Cameron has promised to try to renegotiate Britain's EU relationship before offering voters an in/out membership referendum in 2017. But some of his own lawmakers are sceptical about his resolve to push for real change, viewing his promise as a tactical move to try to hold his divided party together.

With a population of 53,000, Clacton, once a thriving seaside resort, began to decline as Britons turned to cheap foreign package holidays in the 1980s. It now earns its keep from retirees and day trippers from London.

Retirement homes line the seafront, gaudy arcades filled with slot machines and bookmakers dominate the town centre, and caravan parks luring low-income families with cheap deals sit on the outskirts along with Jaywick, an area officially rated as one of the most deprived in the country.

Education activist Malala joint winner of Nobel Peace Prize

posted 10 Oct 2014, 06:40 by Mpelembe Admin   [ updated 10 Oct 2014, 06:41 ]

Shot by the Taliban two years ago, Malala Yousafzai who has become an international symbol of resistance to the Taliban's efforts to deny women education and other rights, has won this year's Nobel Peace Prize jointly with Indian children's rights activist Kailash Satyarthi.

KARACHI, PAKISTAN  (KHYBER TV) -  Last year, 16-year-old Pakistani schoolgirl Malala Yousafzai was the youngest person to be nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize. This year, she was the joint winner for her work as an education activist. She has become an internationally-recognised symbol of resistance to the Taliban's efforts to deny women education and other rights.

Malala's hometown of Mingora in Pakistan's Swat Valley was infiltrated by militants from Afghanistan more than six years ago and for a time the community was living under the influence of the Pakistani Taliban. The Taliban set up courts, executed residents and closed girls' schools, including the one that Malala attended.

She rose to fame when she wrote a blog under a pen name about living underTaliban rule. She spoke out against the militants, demanding education for girls, at a time when the government appeared to be appeasing the hardline Islamists.

On October 9, 2012 Taliban gunmen fired on Malala's school bus, shooting her in the head and neck at close range and wounding two of her classmates.

She was treated in Pakistan before the United Arab Emirates provided an air ambulance to fly her to Britain, where doctors mended parts of her skull with a titanium plate.

Unable to return safely to Pakistan, Malala enrolled in a school in Birmingham, England.

She not only survived the attack, but recovered to the extent that she celebrated her 16th birthday in July 2013 with a passionate speech at the United Nations in New York in which she appealed for compulsory free schooling for all children.

Wearing a pink head-scarf, Malala told U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and nearly 1,000 students attending an international Youth Assembly at U.N. headquarters in New York that education was the only way to improve lives.

"Let us pick up our books and our pens. They are our most powerful weapons. One child, one teacher, one book and one pen can change the world. Education is the only solution. Education first," she said.

Malala has gone on to make several public appearances and has received a number of honours.

In September 2013 she was awarded the 'Clinton Global Citizens Awards' at a ceremony in New York.

During her acceptance speech she touched on issues ranging from child labour and poverty to inequality and injustice among women from Afghanistan to Syria.

"Women are not even accepted as human beings, they are treated with injustice and inequality. Women are denied, they are neglected even in the developed countries, where they are not given the opportunities to move forward and be what they want. Even in America, even in America, people are waiting for a woman president," she said.

Pakistan has five million children out of school, a number only surpassed by Nigeria, which has more than 10 million children out of school, according to the U.N. cultural agency UNESCO.

The Nobel Peace Prize will be announced on Friday (October 10).

Malaysians Move On As MH370 Search Continues On

posted 22 Mar 2014, 03:06 by Mpelembe Admin   [ updated 22 Mar 2014, 03:07 ]

As the search for missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 reaches the two-week mark, some Malaysians say life must move on.

BANDAR KINRARA, MALAYSIA (MARCH 22, 2014) (REUTERS) -  The bustle of daily life continued for Malaysians on Saturday (March 22), as the search for missing Malaysian Airlines flight MH370 dragged into a second week.

The airliner went missing with 239 people on board early on March 8.

But Malaysian officials say they are now bracing for the "long haul" as searches by more than two dozen countries turn up few results.

Newspaper headlines at one street-side seller in a southern suburb of Kuala Lumpurcontinued to be dominated by coverage of the search efforts, but customers said they were beginning to feel fatigued.

"Life will have to go on and you take this as a lesson for all, and we'll have to be closer together for the best of all Malaysia," 56-year-old Abdul Rahman Putra told Reuters.

"I think the authorities should just be allowed to do their jobs. I feel annoyed because there's too much speculation - and this needs to be stopped," Susarudin Yakub said.

Families of the passengers have faced an emotionally wrenching battle to elicit information from Malaysia's government, their angst fuelled by a steady stream of speculation and false leads.

The country's transport minister has rejected complaints that the country has botched search efforts or refused to share vital information with other governments.

But 46-year-old oil and gas consultant Ravi Chandran said he still suspected theMalaysian government knew more than they were letting on.

"I want to see something true is coming out from our government, from the people who is up there. This all is not a true stories I thinks. Something is going on," he said.

An international team hunting for possible debris from the aircraft in the remote southern Indian Ocean yielded no results on Friday (March 23), and Australia's deputy prime minister said suspected debris there may have sunk.

On Saturday, six aircraft began returning to the region where objects identified by satellite were spotted earlier this week, while two merchant ships were also searching the area.

ChinaJapan and India are sending planes and Australian and Chinese navy vessels are steaming to the zone, more than 2,000km (1,200 miles) southwest of Perth.

Aircraft and ships have also renewed the search in the Andaman Sea between India andThailand, going over areas that have already been exhaustively swept.

Chinese Families Of MH370 Passengers Moved From Hotel 'Because Of Formula One'

posted 22 Mar 2014, 02:55 by Mpelembe Admin   [ updated 22 Mar 2014, 02:56 ]

Malaysian official says Chinese families of passengers aboard missing flight MH370 have been moved from their hotel near Kuala Lumpur to make way for customers of the upcoming Malaysian Formula One grand prix.

SEPANG, SELANGOR STATE, MALAYSIA (MARCH 22, 2014) (REUTERS) - Chinese families who chose to fly to Kuala Lumpur to be closer to the search for relatives on board missing flight MH370 have been moved to make way for motorsports fans, a Malaysian official said on Saturday (March 22).

By late Friday (March 21), a handful of Chinese families who had been staying at a resort south of Kuala Lumpur had to decamp to another hotel to make way for visitors to the upcoming Malaysian Formula One grand prix.

"Look, I thought it was already explained, it's because of the Formula One. They are ok, they are not unhappy about that," Malaysia's envoy to ChinaOng Ka Ting told reporters.

"They are ok, they are well taken care of, I think they are fully understood and they accepted it," he added.

For families of the passengers, the search has proved to be an emotionally wrenching battle to elicit information, their angst fuelled by a steady stream of speculation and false leads.

In a Beijing hotel where the bulk of Chinese families have been awaiting information, the deadlock has prompted rage over perceived Malaysian incompetence.

On Wednesday (March 19), grief erupted into anger in Malaysia when several family members unfurled a protest banner in front of a throng of journalists, demanding the truth from the Malaysian government.

The ruckus prompted police to escort the relatives, including a distraught mother, away from the briefing room.

Greek Schoolchildren Form Human Chain On Acropolis Against Racism

posted 21 Mar 2014, 09:03 by Mpelembe Admin   [ updated 21 Mar 2014, 09:04 ]

Thousands of young schoolchildren in Greece form a human chain around the Parthenon Temple on the Acropolis to mark the international day against racism.

 ATHENS, GREECE (MARCH 21 2014)(REUTERS) - Some 2,600 children in Greece formed a human chain around the famous Parthenon Templeon the Acropolis in Athens on Friday (March 21) as a symbol against racism.

March 21 is the United Nations' International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination.

"We're extremely excited, it was for a very good cause, we're sending a message loud and clear that everybody should be united, we're against racism and our children are holding hands and I think they're sending the message loud and clear," said English teacher Penelope Aristou.

Racism has become an issue in Greece in the last two years following a series of racist attacks on immigrants believed to be carried out by right wing extremists.

The thousands of children, who came with their teachers from schools in the Greek capital, after forming the human chain held up placards reading "I embrace the Acropolis, I embrace humanity," and sang as tourists looked on.

"I really like doing this event, because we need to show respect for everyone, it's very important," said 12-year-old Marilia Diamantopoulou.

The event was organized by the Greek Secretariat for Human Rights.

Turkish President Posts Message On Twitter Saying Social Media Bans Are Unacceptable

posted 21 Mar 2014, 07:44 by Mpelembe Admin   [ updated 21 Mar 2014, 07:45 ]

Turkish President Abdullah Gul posts a message on Twitter saying the ban on the social media platform is unacceptable, as the country's main opposition party prepares to launch a legal challenge against a court order blocking the website.

 INTERNET (MARCH 21, 2014) (TWITTER WEBPAGE) - Turkish President Abdullah Gul said on Friday (March 21) that it was unacceptable to impose complete bans on social media platforms after a court decision to block access to Twitter.

Posting on his own Twitter page, Gul said only individual Internet pages should be blocked if a court ruled that an individual's privacy had been violated, adding he hoped the current block would not last long.

Turkey's courts blocked access to Twitter following a vow from Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan, on the campaign trail ahead of key March 30 local elections, to "wipe out" the service.

In a defiant stand, Erdogan said he did not care what the international community had to say about it.

The Prime Minister, who has been in power for 11 years, is battling a corruption scandal that has been fed by social media awash with alleged evidence of government wrongdoing.

Gul, however, took to Twitter himself to say complete bans on social media platforms were unacceptable and to voice his hope that the block would be short-lived.

"One cannot approve of the complete closure of social media platforms," Gul tweeted.

He said only individual Internet pages should be blocked if there is a court order on the grounds that a person's privacy is being violated.

Gul co-founded the ruling Islamist-rooted AK Party with Erdogan and has remained a close ally.

But he is viewed as a more conciliatory figure than the combative prime minister and their relations have at times appeared strained.

Turkey's main opposition party said it would challenge the ban and file a criminal complaint against Erdogan on the grounds of violating personal freedoms.

The country's bar association filed a separate court challenge.

"We will file a complaint against the block access, against the ruling by Istanbul court. We are preparing a petition and we will submit it this afternoon around 2.30 p.m. (1230gmt). As a citizen of this country as a lawmaker I will file a complaint against twitter ban." CHP Deputy Levent Gok told a news conference on Friday.

In the run up to the elections, the president has been hesitant to openly criticise Erdogan, despite the brewing scandal and the lather's increasing claims of a conspiracy against his government

Erdogan's ruling AK Party has already tightened Internet controls, handed government more influence over the courts, and reassigned thousands of police and hundreds of prosecutors and judges as it fights a corruption scandal he has cast as a plot by political enemies to oust him.

Telecoms watchdog BTK said the social media platform had been blocked by the courts after complaints were made by citizens that it was breaching privacy.

It said Twitter had ignored previous requests to remove content.

Twitter users in Turkey began reporting widespread outages in direct connections overnight.

Some users trying to open the website were taken to a statement apparently from another regulator citing four court orders as the basis for the ban.

San Francisco-based Twitter said it was looking into the matter but had not issued a formal statement.

The company did publish a tweet addressed to Turkish users instructing them on how to continue tweeting via SMS text message.

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