Ankara: Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Monday urged youngsters not to become "slaves to the Internet" as he handed out free tablet computers to students.
The premier also used the occasion to again defend his government`s controversial push to tighten control of the Internet, a move that has drawn widespread criticism.
"The Internet is a very important tool but it can become the biggest threat of our time at the hands of evil-minded people," Erdogan told a group of primary and secondary school pupils and teachers in Ankara.
"Don`t become slaves to the Internet, don`t become the slaves of computers," he said at a ceremony marking a government initiative to hand out 100,000 tablets to students across the country.
Turkey`s parliament triggered a storm of protest at home and abroad earlier this month after it approved restrictions to the Internet which include giving authorities the power to block webpages deemed insulting or as invading privacy.
Critics of Erdogan and his ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) say the legislation is an attempt to stifle dissent.
The timing of the law has also raised eyebrows as it comes as Erdogan is grappling with a high-level corruption investigation that has implicated key allies, and some of the details of the probe have been leaked online.
But Erdogan has vehemently denied accusations of online censorship, and today said the proposed Internet curbs were vital to protect the privacy of young people.
"We do not aim to limit the freedom of anyone. On the contrary, we want to protect our youth from blackmailers, usurpers and crooks," he said.
Rights groups have urged President Abdullah Gul not to sign the Internet bill into law.
Erdogan has long been suspicious of the Internet, branding Twitter a "menace" last year for helping organise mass anti-government protests in which six people died and thousands were injured.
His tough stance on the Internet as well as his crackdown on police and prosecutors in response to the corruption probe has raised questions internationally about the state of democracy in Turkey.