Turkey releases lead editor, staff of Russian news agency

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The editor-in-chief of and three staff members of Russian news agency Sputnik were released on Sunday, hours after their detention over a report on a disputed referendum that gave the southern province of Hatay to Turkey in 1939, T24 news site reported. 

Three staff members of Sputnik's Ankara office and the agency's Turkey Editor-in-Chief Mahir Boztepe were detained earlier on Sunday over a report by the agency titled "The Stolen Province: Why Turkey Was Given A Corner Of Syria By France 80 Years Ago'" Yenişafak newspaper said.

Police on Saturday searched the Sputnik bureau in Istanbul under a warrant issued by city prosecutor's office, Sputnik said. 

Sputnik's report said Hatay was part of the French mandate of Syria and Lebanon under the 1923 Treaty of Lausanne, but France held a referendum just before World War II broke out and Hatay voted to become part of Turkey. However, Ankara is widely believed to have bussed in Turks from other parts of Turkey and rigged the result of the referendum, it said.

Meanwhile, a group of 20 people arrived in front of the homes of Sputnik employees on Saturday after the killing of Turkish soldiers in Syria's Idlib. Threatening the employees, the protesters chanted slogans, including "Martyrs don't die, the country can't be divided”.

Tensions between Ankara and Moscow, which support opposing sides in the war in Syria, have escalated as Russia-backed Syrian forces last month intensified their assault in Idlib.

Fifty-seven Turkish soldiers were killed this month by Syrian shelling in the region and almost one million people have flocked to areas near the Turkish border, fleeing the Syrian government advance on the region.