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'#WeLoveErdogan': supporters rally around Turkey leader in Twitter campaign

AFP , Wednesday 30 Mar 2016
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan (Photo: AP)
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A bid by supporters of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to create Twitter buzz around the Turkish leader as he makes a sensitive trip to the United States descended into acrimony Wednesday amid accusations of censorship.

Erdogan backers created the hashtag #WeLoveErdogan to give him a boost as he goes to Washington with US ties under strain and facing growing criticism for clamping down on freedom of expression in Turkey.

The English-language hashtag, which was tweeted by several Turkish cabinet ministers and ruling party members, was propelled late Tuesday into the top trending worldwide hashtags on Twitter.

But by Wednesday it had vanished from the trending topics, prompting the Turkish government to accuse Twitter of foul play.

"Our president Mr @RT_Erdogan was greeted with great enthusiasm by US citizens and our compatriots," tweeted Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusolgu, who is accompanying Erdogan on his visit to Washington.

"#WeLoveErdogan," he added.

Other users posted pictures of Erdogan kissing children and famous moments from his career and life, including scoring a goal with a canny chip in a televised 2014 football match.

Ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) MP Mehmet Babaoglu posted a picture of Erdogan's famous 2009 walk-out from the World Economic Forum in Davos after a row with then Israeli president Shimon Peres.

"That's why #WeLoveErdogan," he said.

Some users also added extra phrases to pictures of Erdogan, like "We have Erdogan, they don't."

But the campaign hit controversy with Erdogan supporters accusing Twitter of censorship by deliberately removing the hashtag from its top trending tweets.

In a broadside of over 40 tweets in his Turkish and English accounts, Ankara mayor and diehard Erdogan loyalist Melih Gokcek said Twitter had deliberately taken it down.

"This hashtag #WeLoveErdogan got TT ranking worldwide... But then it was censored unbelievably," said Gokcek, accusing supporters of Erdogan's arch foe the US-based preacher Fethullah Gulen of being behind its removal.

Deputy Prime Minister Yalcin Akdogan called for an end to "double standards and hypocrisy", accusing Twitter of allowing fake accounts to insult the president but not shows of affection for him.

"Why does it drive you mad that we say we love Erdogan?" he asked in a television interview.

Justice Minister Bekir Bozdag meanwhile said that the episode was a "reflection of an ongoing global operation against Mr President."

Led by Cavusoglu, supporters tried to create a new trending topic: #TwitterCensoredErdogan.

Other bloggers suggested that rather than censoring the hashtag Twitter may have removed it for being generated by automated bots or simply as a normal outcome of its complex algorithm for determining top trends. There was no immediate comment from the social network.

The Twitter campaign comes during an intense period for Erdogan as he visits the United States amid suggestions US President Barack Obama is trying to keep his distance from the Turkish leader.

Erdogan is not scheduled to have any formal bilateral meeting with Obama in Washington, an absence some analysts have seen as a symbol of a deteriorating US-Turkey relationship.

To the amusement of Erdogan's critics, he was not greeted on landing in Washington by a top US official but by his own foreign minister Cavusoglu.

One user doctored a picture to show a duplicate Erdogan greeting himself at the airport.

Significantly, Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu has yet to become involved in the Twitter campaign.

Meanwhile foreign criticism is also multiplying over freedom of expression, with in the latest row Turkey asking Germany to take down a television song that lampooned Erdogan.

Until last year, Erdogan was seen as hostile to Twitter, boasting he does not "tweet or schmeet" and overseeing blockages of social networks.

But in 2015 Erdogan sent his first tweet from his own account @RT_Erdogan and now regularly uses Twitter.

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