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Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan makes a speech during a symposium on presidential system in Istanbul, Turkey, February 11, 2017. Kayhan Ozer/Presidential Palace/Handout via REUTERS

(reuters_tickers)

By Tuvan Gumrukcu and David Dolan

ISTANBUL (Reuters) - President Tayyip Erdogan publicly criticised prominent Turkish newspaper Hurriyet on Tuesday, sending its shares and those of parent company Dogan Holding tumbling.

Hurriyet has come under fire after a Feb. 25 article saying the government had not sought the opinion of the army before lifting a ban on the headscarf in the military, with a headline seen as implying discord between the army and government.

Erdogan, who has spent much of his career battling the military's outsize influence over politics and in July batted back an attempted coup by rogue soldiers, described the headline of the article - "Headquarters are uneasy" - as "very ugly".

"This story seriously bothered the Turkish Armed Forces, just as it has bothered us," Erdogan told reporters at a news conference before departing for an official visit to Pakistan.

"Nobody has the right to pit those in the state against each other, everyone should know their place. You are being disrespectful... Whoever is trying to pit us against each other will pay a heavy price."

Shares of Hurriyet tumbled 9 percent and Dogan dropped 10 percent.

In a statement, Hurriyet said: "It didn't even cross our mind that this headline could be perceived this way. Such an intention is out of the question. The headline can be seen as an editorial mistake. We are sorry for that."

HEADSCARF BANS

Defence ministry officials said this month the military would allow female soldiers to wear a headscarf with their uniforms, marking a symbolic shift for an army that has traditionally seen itself as a guardian of state secularism.

Although a majority Muslim country, Turkey is officially secular and headscarves were banned for decades in the civil service and universities. Erdogan and the Islamist-rooted AKP he founded fought to overturn those bans, which they see as discrimatory, and to bring religion into public life.

Private broadcaster NTV reported on Monday that Bakirkoy prosecutor's office in Istanbul was investigating the newspaper. No one was immediately available for comment at the prosecutor's office.

Turkey has a poor record on free speech, with at least 81 journalists imprisoned, according to the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists. More than 130 media outlets have been shut since a coup attempt in July, according to announcements from Turkish officials.

The crackdown, part of wider purges which have seen around 120,000 mostly public service workers suspended or dismissed since the coup attempt, has drawn criticism from Erdogan's opponents and some Western allies, who fear he is trying to silence dissent.

(Additional reporting by Ece Toksabay; editing by Jeremy Gaunt)

Reuters