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Turkish writer, columnist and academic Murat Belge (R) and Turkish author Orhan Pamuk leave Kartal Justice Palace after Belge appeared in court on charges of insulting Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan in Istanbul, Turkey May 3, 2016. REUTERS/Osman Orsal

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By Melih Aslan

ISTANBUL (Reuters) - Turkey is using the charge of insulting President Tayyip Erdogan to intimidate his opponents and silence dissent and European leaders must take a tougher line with Ankara on free speech, Nobel prize-winning author Orhan Pamuk said on Tuesday.

Prosecutors have opened more than 1,800 cases against people for insulting Erdogan since he became president in 2014, including journalists, cartoonists and teenagers. A German satirist is facing prosecution after mocking him on German TV.

Speaking after a court hearing against Murat Belge, a fellow writer and academic who was charged with insulting Erdogan in a newspaper column, Pamuk said Europe needed to pay more attention to Turkey's record on freedom of expression as it strikes deals on visa liberalisation and migration.

"This has nothing to do with insulting the president. This is only about silencing political opposition. This is about intimidating people and scaring the country so nobody would criticise the government," he told Reuters.

Turkey has a long history of using the courts to fight political battles. Pamuk, 64, was himself tried 10 years ago on charges of 'insulting Turkishness' for comments about the mass killings of Armenians and Kurds. The charges were later dropped.

Erdogan has repeatedly said he is open to criticism and dissent but draws the line at insults, and that his lawyers will continue to bring cases against those who insult him. His aides deny suggestions the legal actions aim to silence opponents.

"Erdogan is quite determined to create a new society where there is no principle of the separation of powers," said Belge, 73, outside the Istanbul courthouse. He denies the charges against him and his case was adjourned to Sept. 20.

European Council President Donald Tusk, a former Polish prime minister, and jailed in the 1980s for opposing Poland's communist government, said last month Erdogan needed a thicker skin against criticism.

But Erdogan's opponents in Turkey, as well as rights groups, have criticised Europe for striking a deal with Ankara promising accelerated EU accession negotiations and visa-free travel to Europe in return for help curbing a migrant crisis, while doing too little to challenge its deteriorating rights record.

"I hope the leaders of the EU when they are shaking hands with Turkish leaders ... would also occasionally talk about free speech," said Pamuk, who won the literature Nobel Prize in 2006.

Pamuk, whose work has been translated into about 60 languages and who remains among Turkey's top-selling writers, has long championed free speech and freedom of the press.

(Editing by Nick Tattersall and Janet Lawrence)

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