ANKARA - Turkey's president said Sunday he believed the country would soon lift its ban on Twitter, condemned as a bid to muzzle a corruption scandal dogging the government ahead of key elections.

"I believe this problem will be over soon," Abdullah Gul told reporters in Ankara before leaving for an official visit to the Netherlands. "This is of course an unpleasant situation for such a developed country as Turkey, which has weight in the region and which is negotiating with the European Union. Therefore, it will be overcome soon."

The ban was implemented Thursday shortly after Turkey's powerful Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan threatened to "wipe out" Twitter, earning strong rebukes from rights groups and the country's Western allies. The government lashed out at Twitter on Saturday as "biased and prejudiced", accusing the US-based social media giant of failing to abide by hundreds of court orders to remove content deemed illegal. Critics say the Twitter ban is an attempt to hush up corruption allegations ensnaring Erdogan and the Islamic-rooted Justice and Development Party (AKP) ahead of key local elections on March 30.

With a week to go to the vote, the AKP is also struggling to shake off the aftereffects of mass anti-government protests last year that were organised partly on Twitter, prompting Erdogan to label the site a "menace". "Blocking access to Twitter is the work of a government which is losing its self-confidence and strength," veteran journalist Kadri Gursel wrote in the Milliyet newspaper. Social media networks have been flooded almost daily by audio tapes allegedly depicting Erdogan talking with his son about hiding vast sums of money and interfering in court cases, business deals and media coverage. Erdogan has dismissed most of the recordings as "vile" fakes concocted by his political rivals, including US-based cleric Fethullah Gulen, formerly a staunch ally. Erdogan's office says his opponents used Twitter to carry out "systematic character assassinations".

Erdogan, who has been in power for 11 years, is accused of ruling the aspiring EU member with increasing authoritarianism. The Committee for the Protection of Journalists (CPJ) says Turkey jails more reporters than any other country, including serial offenders Iran, China and Eritrea. Douglas Frantz, assistant secretary of public affairs at the US State Department, cast the Twitter ban as "21st-century book burning", and urged Turkey to reverse its controversial decision. "A friend like Turkey has nothing to fear in the free-flow of ideas and even criticism represented by Twitter. Its attempt to block its citizens' access to social media tools should be reversed," he wrote in an official blog.

Frustrated Turks have been able to access the site by tweaking their computers' Internet settings. Methods include changing their domain name system (DNS) settings or going online via a virtual private network (VPN). Users have also been tweeting via text message, a work-around Twitter reminded them about in a message posted shortly after the ban took effect. But since Saturday there have been unconfirmed reports that the government is trying to block access to lists of alternative DNS numbers.

Gul, a frequent social media user, took to Twitter on Friday to denounce the government's ban hours after the network went dark, becoming the highest-level leader in the country to circumvent the block, along with some ministers. The president, who hails from Erdogan's AKP, has emerged as a more conciliatory leader than the Turkish premier. But he also drew criticism last month for signing a controversial AKP-sponsored law to tighten government control over the Internet.

Gul said Sunday it was "not legally possible" in Turkey to shut down the Internet or access to platforms such as Twitter. He also confirmed that Twitter had hired a lawyer in Turkey for negotiations with the authorities. Addressing the corruption scandal plaguing the AKP, Gul said his telephones might also have been tapped, like Erdogans's, but that he had "nothing to worry about or fear".