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Saturday, January 31, 2009

Erdogan gets a hero’s welcome

ANKARA: Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan yesterday stood by what he said during a heated debate with Israel’s president as the Jewish state sought to calm tempers, saying bilateral ties would recover.

Erdogan received a hero’s welcome home and Hamas and Islamic Jihad hailed his “courageous stand” after he walked out of the debate on Gaza at the World Economic Forum at Davos following a clash with Israeli President Shimon Peres.

Peres had launched a fiery defense of his country’s offensive in Gaza over the past month, and with a raised voice and pointed finger, questioned what Erdogan would do if rockets were to be fired at Istanbul every night.

“President Peres you are older than me and your voice is very loud. The reason for you raising your voice is the psychology of guilt. I will not raise my voice that much, you should know that. When it comes to killing, you know very well how to kill. I know very well how you hit and killed children on the beaches,” he said during the panel discussion, which also included United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and Arab League chief Amr Moussa. “The death of civilians cannot be seen as a simple work accident.”

Erdogan later stressed that he had not targeted Peres personally or the people of Israel. “My reaction (walkout) was to the moderation,” he said, explaining that Peres had been given 25 minutes by the moderator to talk while the others on the panel were given less time. The moderator, Washington Post columnist David Ignatius, had given him a minute to reply, then asked him to finish, saying that people needed to go to dinner.

On his return to Istanbul, Erdogan told a cheering crowd: “We will never allow anyone to show disrespect to the prime minister of Turkey.”

Thousands of people gathered at Istanbul’s Ataturk Airport to greet Erdogan, waving Turkish and Palestinian flags and chanting “Turkey is proud of you.”

Turkish President Abdullah Gul said: “Nobody should expect the prime minister of Turkey to swallow a disrespectful act. He gave the necessary response.”

Peres said yesterday he hoped relations with Turkey would not be affected by the heated exchange and added he had spoken to Erdogan by telephone after the debate.

“We don’t want conflict with Turkey. We are in a conflict with the Palestinians,” Peres told reporters in Davos.

“I called him up and said, ‘Yes, I do not see the matter as personal ... and the relations can remain as they are’,” Peres said. “My respect for him didn’t change. We had an exchange of views.” Some Turkish newspapers reported that Peres apologized to Erdogan. Peres spokeswoman Ayelet Frisch denied that.

The Turkish military indicated its ties with Israel would not immediately change.

“The rule is to act according to national interests in bilateral military relations with all countries,” Brig. Gen. Metin Gurak, the military spokesman, said in response to a question on the possibility of cutting military ties.

Red and white Turkish flags flapped next to green Hamas banners at rallies throughout Gaza City yesterday, as well as the ruins of a bombed-out mosque in the Gaza refugee camp of Jabaliya. About 5,000 Hamas supporters rallied in front of the ruined Palestinian Parliament, some waving Turkish flags and carrying pictures of Erdogan.

Source : ArabNews

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