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Turkey probes social media 'slurs'

Turkish authorities are investigating people who allegedly insulted state officials or incited riots on social media, the deputy prime minister has said in a sign the government is intent on meting out punishment over the massive protests that have swept the country.

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has faced tough international criticism over his government's heavy-handed crackdown on the unprecedented demonstrations.

But in a possible attempt to soften the blow to the country's democratic reputation, his deputy also said the government would propose further checks on the historically powerful military.

The Aksam newspaper said police had provided to Istanbul prosecutors a list of 35 names of people who had allegedly insulted Mr Erdogan or other officials on Twitter or Facebook. Deputy Prime Minister Bekir Bozdag acknowledged the probe, but would not confirm the list. It was not clear exactly what the posts said.

Meanwhile, Facebook expressed concerned about Turkish proposals that would require internet companies to provide user information to authorities.

Mr Erdogan earlier this month branded Twitter a social "menace" for spreading lies after many people turned to the social networking site and Facebook for information. Many Turkish media outlets provided little coverage in the early stages of the demonstrations, likely intimidated into self-censorship by the government's previously tough approach to journalists.

Nearly three weeks of protests were sparked by a violent police crackdown on peaceful activists on May 31, with thousands expressing discontent over what they say are Mr Erdogan's increasingly authoritarian ways. Mr Erdogan who has shepherded Turkey to an economic boom and raised the country's international profile, rejects the charge and cites his broad support base.

The government has dismissed protesters' general calls for a more pluralistic society and has blamed the protests on a foreign-led conspiracy involving bankers and the media meant to stop Turkey on its tracks. It has also vowed to go after them.

Mr Bozdag took aim at the social media users under investigation, claiming that there were many "profanities and insults conducted electronically" that were against the law. Turkish law bars insults to public figures. "Crimes determined as such by the law don't change if they are carried out through Facebook, Twitter or through other electronic means," Mr Bozdag said. "No one has the right to commit crimes under the rule of law."

On Wednesday, Turkey's transport and communications minister complained that Twitter was not co-operating with authorities and said the company has been asked to appoint a Turkey-based official to deal with requests. Binali Yildirim suggested Facebook was more co-operative, but the company released a statement saying it had not provided user data to Turkish authorities in relation to the protests and was concerned about proposals that would require internet companies to share information.

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