European leaders slammed the Turkish government for banning Twitter this morning (21 March). The ban is yet another incident hampering EU-Turkish accession talks, due to the ongoing crackdown on free speech by Ankara. EurActiv Turkey contributed to this report.

Twitter users in Turkey have reported that the social media platform Twitter is blocked since this morning (21 March), as citizens cannot automatically access their accounts. Users are redirected to a statement, thought to come from Turkey's telecommunications authority.

The block is likely to come be imposed by the Turkish government in order to gag opposition voices in the run-up to the municipal elections on 30 March. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan on Thursday said in a campaign speech that he would “wipe out” Twitter.

Erdogan added: "I don't care what the international community says at all. Everyone will see the power of the Turkish Republic,” the BBC reports.

European leaders expressed their dismay of the blatant infringement on the freedom of expression: “This is a sad day. It is against democracy. It is against European values. It is not acceptable,” said EU commissioner for the digital agenda, Neelie Kroes.

 “Blocking social media is unacceptable in a functioning democracy and rule of law. I call on the Turkish Government to address this issue without delay,” added Dutch MEP for the EPP group, Ria Oomen-Ruijten.

Last November, the EU and Turkey reopened their accession negotiations, after a three-year freeze. The negotiations have been running since 2005; freedom of expression is one of the most important stumbling blocks in the talks.

Turkish president still tweeting

Despite this alleged crackdown, twitter users can easily circumvent the ‘ban’ by changing the DNS server details. Several top level politicians, both from the opposition and governmental parties, have used their twitter account today.

Turkish president Abdullah Gül reacted to the ban, notably via his Twitter account, tweeting a series of tweets that read: “Blocking social media platforms entirely is unacceptable. […] If there are criminal instances where privacy is violated, only the relevant pages should be blocked with a court order. I hope this situation does not last long.”

Municipal elections are held due 30 March. Erdoğan is troubled by a grave scandal concerning secret telephone recordings allegedly proving bribery, rigging of tenders and media oppression. The tapes recently appeared on YouTube, which was briefly shut down by the government in response.

In February, the Turkish government strengthened control on the use of internet after the parliament adopted a bill allowing telecom companies to block websites without going through a court ruling procedure.