Brawls erupt as Turkish police storm media group linked to Erdogan foe


ISTANBUL, Oct 28 (Reuters) - Turkish police on Wednesday stormed the offices of an opposition media company, days before an election, in a crackdown on companies linked to a U.S.-based cleric and foe of President Tayyip Erdogan, live footage showed.

Brawls broke out and police sprayed water cannon to disperse dozens of people in front of the offices of Kanalturk and Bugun TV in Istanbul, a live broadcast on Bugun's website showed.

The media groups are owned by Koza Ipek Holding, which has links to Islamic preacher Fethullah Gulen. The authorities on Tuesday took over 22 companies owned by Koza Ipek in an investigation of alleged financial irregularities, including whether it funded Gulen. The company denies wrongdoing.

Erdogan has clamped down on commercial interests belonging to once-influential followers of Gulen, his former ally, after police and prosecutors considered sympathetic to the cleric opened a corruption investigation of Erdogan's inner circle in 2013.

Legal action against more opposition newspapers, including the nationalist Sozcu newspaper, is planned for after the vote, said Aydin Unal, a lawmaker in the ruling AK Party.

"After Nov. 1, we will hold them accountable. Sozcu newspaper insults us every day," Unal, a former Erdogan adviser, told A Haber channel on Tuesday. "There is a lot of pressure on Turkey. If we say something, the world accuses us of interfering with the press, so we're not in a comfortable position now, but after Nov. 1 we will settle up with all of them."

Rights groups questioned the move against opposition media outlets so close to an election.

"The government's seizure of Koza Ipek undermines the fairness of the Nov. 1 parliamentary elections," Robert Herman of Freedom House said in an e-mailed statement, calling the takeovers of the media firms "censorship."

A prosecutor is seeking a prison sentence of up to 34 years for Gulen, 74, on allegations that he ran a "parallel" structure within state institutions that sought to topple Erdogan, who has led Turkey, first as prime minister, then president, since 2003.

Gullen has lived in self-imposed exile in the United States since 1999.

A handful of prominent journalists who worked at Gulen-affiliated newspapers and TV stations are in pre-trial detention on similar charges.

(Reporting by Ayla Jean Yackley, Humeyra Pamuk and Melih Aslan; Editing by David Dolan and Nick Tattersall, Larry King)

Originally published