The arrests on Thursday reflect the widening division between the government and its critics over a long—running investigation into an alleged conspiracy to topple the Islamic—rooted government.

Several thousand demonstrators, some covering their mouths with black ribbons, protested on Friday against the detention of eight journalists in a case that has drawn expressions of concern from Western governments and international media rights groups.

The arrests on Thursday reflect the widening division between the government and its critics over a long—running investigation into an alleged conspiracy to topple the Islamic—rooted government.

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan says prosecutors are stripping away the vestiges of authoritarian rule in Turkey, but opponents counter that many of the more than 400 suspects have been targeted in a bid to muzzle dissent and undermine Turkey’s secular legacy.

On Friday, members of labour unions, political parties and non—governmental organizations joined hundreds of journalists in Istanbul and Ankara. They shouted slogans demanding press freedom after police detained eight journalists and two other people for links to the alleged coup plot.

The larger group was in Istanbul, where protesters carried a giant Turkish flag on a main pedestrian thoroughfare.

Some journalists in Ankara marched with their mouths covered by ribbons that signified the alleged clampdown by the government on expression.

“Don’t remain silent or you will be next,” journalists in Ankara shouted as they marched towards the Justice Ministry. They also carried a banner that read- “Everyone needs free press.”

The government says the decision to detain the journalists was taken by independent judicial authorities.

“Of course, this is not nice,” Deputy Prime Minister Bulent Arinc said. “The journalists should not be jailed or prosecuted for their writings, but none of us have armour if we violate laws.”

“We are disturbed to see renewed heavy—handed treatment of journalists who reported facts that do not suit the government,” Reporters Without Borders said in a statement on Friday.

Taha Akyol, a columnist for Milliyet newspaper, told CNN—Turk television that the targeting of journalists was “causing unrest within the society and gives the impression that the opposition is being crushed.”

Turkey, meanwhile, continued an offensive against Internet sites, causing further concerns over censorship.

A prosecutor on Friday charged the owners or editors of four news websites with “insulting public officials,” for posting excerpts of a high court judge’s alleged conversation, the Anatolia news agency said. They could face up to two years in prison if found guilty.

A court also has ordered access to the blog site Blogspot.com closed after a satellite television company, which owns the broadcasting rights to Turkey’s football league, complained about league games being shown on some blogs, CNN—Turk television said on Friday.

More than 9,000 sites, most of them adult websites, have been banned in Turkey according to Engelli Web, a site that monitors blocked pages.

U.S. State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley on Thursday said the United States had concerns about trends in Turkey and would monitor ongoing arrests of journalists and “urge that any investigations or prosecutions proceed in a transparent manner.”

“We will continue to engage Turkey and encourage an independent, pluralistic media,” Mr. Crowley told reporters. “It is critical to a healthy democracy.”

Thursday’s detentions were a follow up to a raid last month on the anti—government news website Oda TV, and those detained included two investigative journalists, Ahmet Sik and Nedim Sener. The suspects are accused of having links with the so—called Ergenekon network that is accused of conspiring to topple the government in 2003.

Mr. Sik is already on trial for a book he co—authored about the Ergenekon case. Mr. Sener is known for a book about alleged intelligence failures that he claims led to the 2007 murder of Hrant Dink, an ethnic Armenian journalist.

The Vienna—based International Press Institute said it was highly concerned over the detentions of journalists.

“No journalist should face arrest, charges, imprisonment or any other form of harassment or intimidation for doing their job which can include expressing critical views,” IPI Director Alison Bethel McKenzie said in an online statement on Thursday.

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