March 20, 2019 12:44 pm
Updated: March 20, 2019 1:08 pm

‘Highly reckless’: Turkey’s Erdogan sparks diplomatic spat over N.Z. mosque attack comments

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ANKARA, Turkey – Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, campaigning for votes in local elections this month, has sparked a diplomatic spat with New Zealand and Australia by portraying the Christchurch mosque shooting and a World War I battle as targeting Islam.

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Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison summoned Turkey’s ambassador on Wednesday and demanded that Erdogan take back comments suggesting that Australians and New Zealanders had sent troops to fight Turkey in the WWI Gallipoli campaign motivated by an opposition to Islam.

In more inflammatory comments, Erdogan also said that Australians and New Zealanders travelling to Turkey with anti-Muslim sentiments would be sent back in coffins, “like their grandfathers” were in the Gallipoli campaign.

Morrison’s government issued a travel advisory warning people visiting the Er battlefields for remembrance ceremonies during the anniversary of the campaign next month to exercise caution.

Morrison said “all options are on the table” if Erdogan does not withdraw his comments.

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Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu later held a telephone conversation with his Australian counterpart, Marise Payne, Turkish Foreign Ministry officials said. They did not provide further details about the call.

Ignoring widespread criticism, Erdogan has been screening at his campaign rallies excerpts of a video taken by the gunman who killed 50 people in mosques in Christchurch, to denounce what he calls rising hatred and prejudice against Islam. Three Turkish citizens were among the wounded in the attack.

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Erdogan, whose party has roots in Turkey’s Islamic movement, has also been showing parts of a manifesto said to have been left by the gunman in which he threatens Turks and Erdogan himself.

New Zealand has been trying to prevent the use of the videos. New Zealand’s Foreign Minister Winston Peters, who is due in Istanbul this week to attend a meeting of the Organization for Islamic Cooperation to discuss the mosque shootings, was expected to take up the issue during the visit.

On Wednesday, Erdogan – inaugurating a theme park in Ankara as part of his campaign for the March 31 elections – called for votes for his ruling party candidates as a response to “occupiers who attempt to threaten our nation from tens of thousands of kilometres away.”

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In Australia, Turkish ambassador Korhan Karakoc said he had a “frank” conversation with Morrison when the envoy was summoned to Parliament House on Wednesday.

“Remarks have been made by the Turkish President Erdogan that I consider highly offensive to Australians and highly reckless in this very sensitive environment,” Morrison told reporters in Canberra, Australia’s capital.

“They are offensive because they insult the memory of our Anzacs and they violate the pledge that is etched in the stone at Gallipoli,” he said, referring to a promise made by the founder of modern Turkey, Kemal Ataturk, that those who are buried rest on friendly soil.

“I do not accept the excuses that have been offered for those comments,” Morrison said.

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In an opinion piece published in The Washington Post on Wednesday, Erdogan said the attacker on the New Zealand mosques is no different from the Islamic State group.

In the piece, Erdogan also called on Western leaders to learn from “the courage, leadership and sincerity” of New Zealand’s Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and “embrace Muslims living in their respective countries.”

© 2019 The Canadian Press

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