Istanbul: Turkish police on Sunday launched a sweeping operation to arrest dozens of supporters of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's rival, US-exiled imam Fethullah Gulen, including a raid on the offices of the Zaman daily, which is close to the cleric.
The operation came just two days after Erdogan signalled a new crackdown against the "evil forces" of Gulen, whom the president accused of orchestrating a corruption probe a year ago against members of his inner circle.
Police conducted raids in several cities across Turkey, including Istanbul, and detained at least 24 people including a top executive of a television channel close to Gulen, as well as a director, producers and scriptwriters, state-run Anatolia news agency said.
Arrest warrants were issued for a total of 32 people, including Ekrem Dumanli, the chief editor of Zaman, the country's top-selling newspaper.
Erdogan said Friday he would "pursue them (Gulen supporters) in their lairs".
"We are not just faced with a simple network, but one which is a pawn of evil forces at home and abroad," he said. "We will go into their lairs again. Whoever is beside them and behind them, we will bring down this network and bring it to account."
Gulen, 73, is the spiritual leader of the Hizmet movement, which controls media outlets, schools and culture centres and was a key backer of Erdogan before falling out with him over the government's plans to shut down his schools.
Hizmet has denied being behind the corruption probe, which dragged down four ministers and prompted a cabinet shake-up, posing the most serious challenge to Erdogan's Islamic-rooted government since it came to power in 2002.
Today a huge crowd gathered outside Zaman's offices on the outskirts of Istanbul, preventing the police from entering the building to make any arrests.
"The free press cannot be silenced," the crowd chanted, as Dumanli taunted the police, challenging them to come and arrest him.
"The person to be detained is waiting here. Please come and get me. I'm waiting for you here," Dumanli said.
Anatolia reported that the suspects are accused of a number of offences including "forming a gang to try and seize state sovereignty."