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Turkish authorities seize country's largest newspaper

Committee to Project Journalists says seizure of Zaman strangles the "remnants of critical journalism" in the country.

Human rights groups and media activists have criticised the Turkish government after authorities in the country reportedly seized control of Zaman, the country's largest newspaper.

Zaman is associated with a movement led by US-based Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen, an influential political opponent of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

State-run Anadolu Agency reported on Friday that administrators had been appointed to run Zaman at the request of an Istanbul prosecutor. Officials were not immediately available to confirm the reports.

The move against Zaman came hours after police detained prominent businessmen over allegations of financing what prosecutors described as a "Gulenist terror group", Anadolu reported.

Erdogan accuses Gulen of conspiring to overthrow the government by building a network of supporters in the judiciary, police and media.

Gulen has denied the charges.

'Dark period'

Erdogan and Gulen were allies until police and prosecutors seen as sympathetic to Gulen opened a corruption probe into Erdogan's inner circle in 2013.

"It has been a habit for the last three, four years, that anyone who is speaking against government policies is facing either court cases or prison, or such control by the government," said Abdulhamit Bilici, editor-in-chief of Zaman.

READ MORE: Turkey conglomerate raided for 'funding Gulen movement'

"This is a dark period for our country, our democracy."

The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) also said it was "alarmed" by the government's decision.

"Today's move by the court paves the way to effectively strangle the remnants of critical journalism in Turkey," CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon, said in a statement.

Andrew Gardner, Amnesty International's Turkey expert, accused Erdogan of "steamrolling over human rights" in the country.

Reporters Without Borders, meanwhile, said Erdogan's "use" of the judicial system against the media "is absolutely illegitimate and intolerable". 

Zaman is Turkey's biggest selling newspaper, with a circulation of 650,000 as of the end of February, according to media-sector monitor MedyaTava website.

Hundreds of supporters gathered in the rain outside Zaman's Istanbul office to condemn the move.

READ MORE: Journalists accused of 'terrorism' released in Turkey

The crackdown on Zaman comes at an already worrying time for press freedom in Turkey.

Two prominent journalists from the pro-opposition Cumhuriyet newspaper are facing potential life sentences on charges of endangering state security, for publishing material that purports to show intelligence officials trucking arms to Syria.

Authorities have seized and shut down opposition media outlets associated with the Gulen movement before. The state deposit insurance fund said this week an Islamic bank founded by Gulen followers might be liquidated within months.

Earlier on Friday police detained Memduh Boydak, chief executive of furniture-to-cables conglomerate Boydak Holding, as well as the group's chairman Haci Boydak and two board members, for their alleged links to Gulen.

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