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EU pressured over Turkey's seizure of anti-Erdogan newspaper

Ozan Kose, AFP | Protests continued on Saturday, March 5, 2016, in front of the Zaman newspaper offices in Istanbul

Turkey's largest-circulation newspaper has adopted a more pro-government line in its first edition since a court ordered it to be seized, a move which has heightened fears over deteriorating media freedom in the country.

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The front page of Zaman newspaper, normally strongly critical of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, on Sunday was full of articles supporting the government.

However, the EU response to Turkey’s crackdown has been timid, as the EU prepares for an emergency summit with Turkey on how to handle the migrant crisis.

After Turkish police seized Zaman this weekend using tear gas and water cannons, Brussels warned Ankara it had to respect media freedom in its decade-long bid for EU membership   also a topic in the migrant talks.

The European Union is facing increasing pressure to speak out against the erosion of media freedom in Turkey, but few expect it to take a bold stance toward Ankara while trying to assure its help in dealing with the migration crisis.

EU leaders are hoping to persuade Turkey to cooperate with the EU on the migrant crisis by taking back large numbers of immigrants from the EU and stepping up actions against smugglers. Turkey is the launch pad for most of the more than one million refugees and migrants who have come to the continent since early 2015.

The emergency summit with Turkey, scheduled for Monday, will focus on how Ankara was planning to spend 3 billion euros pledged by EU member states to stem the flow of migrants to Europe.

Donald Tusk, the European Council president and summit host, said in his invitation letter that stopping the migrant crisis depended largely on securing Turkey's agreement at the summit for the "large-scale" readmission from Greece of economic migrants who do not qualify as refugees.

Police stormed the headquarters of Zaman on Friday to enforce a court decision to place it and its sister outlets under the management of trustees. The move sparked two days of protests which police dispersed using tear gas and water cannons.

The newspaper was linked to President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's top foe, the US-based Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen. Its take-over is part of a wider state crackdown on his movement.

The newspaper's top story Sunday described how Erdogan attended a ceremony marking a key phase in the construction of a bridge in Istanbul.

"The Sunday edition was not produced by Zaman's staff," one of the newspaper's journalists told AFP.

The Istanbul court's appointment of trustees to manage Zaman and its sister outlets further reduced the number of opposition media organisations in Turkey, which is dominated by pro-government news outlets.

The Turkish government has denied any interference in the paper's confiscation, with Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu calling it a "legal process."

(FRANCE 24 with AP, AFP, REUTERS)

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