April 15, 2016 / 7:42 AM / a year ago

Russian state news agency Sputnik says site blocked in Turkey

ISTANBUL/MOSCOW (Reuters) - The website of Russian state news agency Sputnik has been blocked in Turkey, its Turkish editor-in-chief said on Friday, shortly after President Vladimir Putin made comments critical of Turkey's leaders.

Russia's foreign ministry called the site blocking unlawful and a grave violation of human rights. Ties between Moscow and Ankara have been strained after Turkey shot down a Russian warplane last November.

"There is no access to Sputniknews.com and sub-domains from Turkey," Mahir Boztepe told Reuters. "We were not expecting a ban at all."

No one was available for comment at Turkey's telecoms and internet regulatory agencies. However, the internet regulator's website said that an "administration measure" had been taken against Sputniknews.com.

Such measures are commonly used when authorities wish to block access to websites in Turkey.

In Moscow, Sputnik's top editor, Margarita Simonyan, described the blocking as "a further act of harsh censorship" in Turkey and said the site had been blocked late on Thursday, hours after Putin made his critical comments.

"We have problems with some political leaders (in Turkey) whose behavior, actions we consider inappropriate," Putin said in a televised national phone-in.

Sputnik, part of the sprawling state media holding company Rossiya Segodnya, was set up in 2014 to help disseminate Russia's views abroad.

Turkey has shut or confiscated several newspapers over the past year and has also sometimes blocked access to social media sites including Twitter and Facebook, often due to images or other content being shared.

CHILLY RELATIONS

Relations between the former Cold War rivals hit their worst level in recent memory after Turkey shot down a Russian warplane that it said had strayed into its air space from Syria.

In the Syrian civil war, Moscow has backed its longtime ally, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, while Turkey says Assad is a dictator who needs to be removed.

Following the warplane incident, Putin imposed sanctions on Turkey and trade between the two countries has dived.

Russian state media have adopted a hostile tone towards Ankara. Last month the Komsomolskaya Pravda mass-market tabloid ran a report headlined "Turkey never was and never will be a friend of Russia".

Human rights groups and some Turkish media decry what they say has been an unprecedented crackdown on opposition voices in Turkey. The European Union, which Ankara aspires to join, has also expressed concerns over media freedoms in Turkey.

Additional reporting by Vladimir Soldatkin; Writing by David Dolan; Editing by Tom Heneghan

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