Istanbul (AFP) - Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan faced a new outcry on Friday over his attitude to the media and women after he branded a prominent female journalist a "shameless woman" and told her "to know your place".
Just ahead of Sunday's presidential election which he is clear favourite to win, Erdogan savaged Amberin Zaman, who writes for the Economist and the Turkish daily Taraf, over comments she made in a television debate.
She had asked the main opposition leader Kemal Kilicdaroglu in the debate whether any Muslim society was capable of challenging its authorities.
Erdogan lashed out at Zaman, without mentioning her directly by name, at an election rally in the eastern city of Malatya on Thursday, calling her a "shameless woman".
"A militant in the guise of a journalist, a shameless woman... Know your place!" he declared.
"They gave you a pen and you are writing a column in a newspaper... and you insult a society that is 99 percent Muslim," he said, drawing loud boos from the crowd.
This is not the first time Erdogan has lashed out at journalists, who have come under increasing pressure in Turkey, which has more reporters behind bars than any other country in the world.
The government's attitude towards women is also under heavy scrutiny, after Deputy Prime Minister Bulent Arinc caused a furore by suggesting women should not laugh loudly in public.
- 'Her safety threatened' -
The Economist released a statement in response to the salvo, saying "we stand firmly by" its correspondent of 15 years.
"The intimidation of journalists has no place in a democracy. Under Mr Erdogan, Turkey has become an increasingly difficult place for independent journalism," it said.
Zaman responded to Erdogan through her column in the Taraf newspaper, writing: "You are lynching a Muslim woman who described what you are doing. Because women are sitting targets, aren't they?"
She said she had been the target of a smear campaign by pro-government media outlets, who had called her a "Jewish bitch" who should become a "concubine" of Islamist jihadists in Iraq.
The Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) expressed concern over the targeting of the journalist, saying "the widespread smear campaign against Amberin Zaman threatens her safety".
"I am alarmed by the latest example of intimidation of and threats towards journalists in Turkey," OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media Dunja Mijatovic said in a statement.
Known for her bitter remarks about Erdogan, Zaman had been fired from Haberturk daily last year because of articles seen as critical of the government.
Meanwhile, the chief editor of the mass-circulation Hurriyet newspaper resigned from his post on Friday, just two days after Erdogan harshly criticised Turkey's largest news company, Dogan Media Group, which includes Hurriyet.
During a rally on Friday, Erdogan said both Dogan and Germany's Der Spiegel magazine had given their "full support" to his rival in the election, the main opposition candidate Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu.
He had already accused Der Spiegel of seeking to foment chaos in Turkey after it featured an article -- in both German and Turkish -- this week criticising Erdogan for rolling back on democratic reforms.
Erdogan, a pious Muslim who has led the Islamic-rooted ruling party since 2002, has come under strong criticism from Western politicians and rights groups for his crackdown on the media.
The US-based watchdog Freedom House downgraded the status of Turkey's media from "partly free" to "not free" in May.
But Erdogan remains the hot favourite to win Sunday's election and become head of state, with the main question being if he will win outright in the first round.