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Internet advocates hope courts with overturn Turkey’s draconian new online censorship law

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By Dasha Afanasieva

ISTANBUL (Reuters) – From a campaign to “unfollow” President Abdullah Gul on Twitter to an opposition appeal to Turkey’s highest court, Turks vented their anger on Wednesday at a new law tightening government control of the Internet.

Gul approved the legislation, which will let the authorities block web pages within hours and collect data such as users’ browsing histories, late on Tuesday, bolstering Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan but raising renewed concerns about free speech.

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Erdogan’s critics say the law, along with a bill increasing government power over the judiciary, as an authoritarian response to a corruption inquiry shaking his government and as an effort to stop leaks about the case circulating online.

Rights groups and the opposition had urged Gul, seen as a more conciliatory figure than Erdogan, to veto the new law. His failure to do so prompted a Twitter campaign under the hashtag #unfollowabdullahgul, although he appeared to lose only a fraction of his four million followers as a result.

“Of course we’re angry. The picture is so obvious – they are trying to manipulate everything. But our anger makes no difference,” said Cinar, a 29-year-old cook sitting with a friend in a cafe near the Besiktas fish market in Istanbul.

The main opposition Republican People’s Party appealed to the constitutional court to overturn the law, saying it breached the constitution and aimed to cover up the corruption inquiry.

Social media and video sharing sites have been awash with alleged recordings of ministers, including Erdogan, and business allies, presented as proof of wrongdoing in the graft scandal. Reuters has been unable to verify their authenticity.

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The government says the law is aimed at protecting individual privacy not gagging its critics, will enable specific content rather than entire web sites to be blocked and will replace prison sentences with fines for violations.

It has cast the corruption scandal as a smear campaign designed to undermine it before elections this year and orchestrated by U.S.-based cleric Fethullah Gulen, a former Erdogan ally whose followers say they number in the millions.

STRICT CONTROLS

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Turkey already has strict Internet laws under which thousands of websites have been blocked, from news portals viewed as close to Kurdish militants to gay dating sites.

Google Legal Director Susan Infantino said in a December report that the number of requests from Turkish authorities to remove content from the firm’s platforms had risen nearly tenfold in the first half of 2012.

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In the six months to the end of June 2013, it was asked to delete more than 12,000 items, making Turkey the top country on its “request to remove content” list, the report said.

Erdogan’s reaction to the corruption probe, in particular government efforts to tighten control over the naming of judges and prosecutors and the Internet, has drawn sharp criticism from the EU, which Turkey has been seeking to join for decades.

In power for more than a decade, Erdogan’s AK Party has increased its share of the vote in each of the past three elections, ushered in unprecedented political stability and overseen some of the fastest economic growth in Europe.

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But the government’s handling of fierce protests in mid-2013 and the fallout from the corruption scandal have heightened fears of some Turks about what they view as Erdogan’s increasingly authoritarian leadership.

“This frightens me even though I’m not doing anything criminal. I already hesitated to write anything critical of the government online,” said Emre, a 35-year-old engineer working on his laptop in a Besiktas cafe.

“This government is not democratic enough for such a law. If I trusted it more, I would not be so frightened.”

(Additional reporting by Ece Toksabay; Editing by Nick Tattersall and Alistair Lyon)

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Watch Devin Nunes freak out and eject reporters when asked about phone calls with Lev Parnas

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Rep. Devin Nunes (R-CA) lost it over the weekend when he was asked about his phone calls with Rudy Giuliani's associate Lev Parnas, who was recently indicted.

Nunes was at a Republican Party fundraiser in New York City when two Intercept reporters asked about the impeachment probe. Recent phone records subpoenaed by the House Intelligence Committee revealed that Nunes had multiple conversations with Giuliani and with Parnas.

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Trump supporters lose their minds when church shows Nativity scene in immigrant cages

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MAGA supporters are losing their minds after a photo of the Nativity scene at Claremont United Methodist Church was posted to Facebook.

The scene depicts Mary, Joseph, and the baby Jesus separated and put in their own cages, a reference to the families separated at the U.S.-Mexico border. Inside the church, the family is shown as reunited.

Senior minister Karen Clark Ristine shared the image on Facebook with the message hoping that everyone in the United States could see the photo and read the story for Christmas.

"The theological statement posted with the nativity: In a time in our country when refugee families seek asylum at our borders and are unwillingly separated from one another, we consider the most well-known refugee family in the world," she wrote. "Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, the Holy Family. Shortly after the birth of Jesus, Joseph and Mary were forced to flee with their young son from Nazareth to Egypt to escape King Herod, a tyrant. They feared persecution and death."

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Columnist nails Republicans for only caring about Hunter Biden now that his father is running for president

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One of the critical questions that must be answered by Republicans, according to one Washington Post columnist, is why they didn't care about Hunter Biden's position at Burisma for so many years.

In a Sunday piece, James Downie asked why Republicans didn't do anything about Hunter Biden five years ago when it was first revealed that vice president's son was on the board of a Ukraine energy company. The House and the Senate were being run by Republicans until this year. They haven't had problems with other partisan investigations against high-profile leaders. There were ten investigations into the Benghazi attacks, three hearings, 29 witnesses, and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton testified for 11 hours. Yet, it was only after Joe Biden announced he was running against President Donald Trump that Republicans discovered an issue.

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