Protests break out in London as Erdogan meets Queen, May

DIYARBAKIR, Turkey: Protesters hold a demonstration to denounce the bloodshed along the Gaza border and the relocation of the US embassy to Jerusalem as the Israeli ambassador to Turkey was asked to temporarily leave the country yesterday. — AFP

ANKARA: Turkey on Tuesday told the Israeli ambassador to temporarily leave after Ankara reacted with outrage to the killing of dozens of Palestinians by Israeli troops on the Gaza border, in the worst crisis since a 2016 reconciliation deal. Ambassador Eitan Naeh was summoned to the Turkish foreign ministry and told to “return to his country for a period of time”, said a foreign ministry official, who asked not to be named. The official said that this was also in line with Turkey recalling its ambassador to Tel Aviv for consultations.

Naeh had been in his post only since Dec 2016 after a reconciliation deal earlier that year ended a dispute over the May 2010 deadly storming of a Turkish ship by Israeli commandos that saw ties downgraded for over half a decade. That deal was strongly backed by the United States, which was keen to see Israel make up with one of its very few key Muslim partners. Ankara has reacted with fury to the killing on Monday of 60 Palestinians in clashes and protests, on the same day as the US formally moved its embassy in Israel to Jerusalem from Tel Aviv.

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, currently on a visit to Britain, had on Monday stepped up his rhetoric, accusing Israel of “state terror” and “genocide” over the killings. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu then hit back at Erdogan, saying that as a leading supporter of Palestinian Islamist group Hamas “there’s no doubt he’s an expert on terror and slaughter”. While Turkey under Erdogan has never completely severed ties with Israel, the Turkish strongman has also never shied away from the strongest criticism. He famously walked out of a Jan 2009 debate in Davos with then Israeli president Shimon Peres, complaining he was not given enough time to respond and repeatedly saying “one minute”.

‘Move as one’

Turkey yesterday began observing three days national mourning declared by Erdogan for the Palestinian dead, with flags flying at half-mast and cultural events cancelled. Prime Minister Binali Yildirim had earlier urged Islamic countries to review their ties with Israel and said Ankara was calling an extraordinary summit of the world’s main pan-Islamic body, the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), on Friday. “The Islamic world should move as one, with one voice, against this massacre,” he added.

Cavusoglu held telephone talks with around a dozen counterparts from the Islamic world. They included the foreign ministers of Jordan, Indonesia and Iran as well as the OIC secretary general Yousef bin Ahmad Al-Othaimeen, foreign ministry sources said. Erdogan regards himself as a champion of the Palestinian cause and last year hosted an OIC summit in Istanbul to denounce US President Donald Trump’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. The summit declared East Jerusalem – which the international community regards as annexed by Israel – “as the capital of the State of Palestine” and urged the world to follow suit.

‘Stop oppression’

Yildirim said that after the summit at 3:00 pm (1200 GMT) a giant rally would be held at the vast Yenikapi meeting area in Istanbul under the slogan of “Stop the Oppression” to express solidarity with the Palestinians. Hundreds of people also held protests for a second day in Istanbul and Ankara against Israel’s actions with slogans including “Jerusalem is the capital of Palestine”, AFP correspondents said. The demonstrations in Turkey passed off peacefully, although one man was arrested in Ankara for throwing eggs and stones at the residence of the Israeli ambassador. In Istanbul, demonstrators held placards with the slogan “the world is bigger than five”, in reference to Erdogan’s repeated complaints about the power of the UN Security Council.

In London, angry protests greeted Erdogan as he met Queen Elizabeth II and held talks with Prime Minister Theresa May. Minor scuffles broke out as pro-Erdogan counter-protesters walked in front of Kurdish demonstrators outside Downing Street, with police wrestling some of the ringleaders to the ground. A Downing Street spokesman said a “frank discussion” on human rights was on the agenda for May’s meeting with Erdogan. “We’ve always been clear that we want Turkey to uphold its international obligations, including respect for freedom of expression and political freedoms,” he said.

Queen Elizabeth welcomed Erdogan for a private audience at Buckingham Palace ahead of the May meeting. The three-day visit comes as the Turkish leader campaigns for re-election after calling a snap poll for June 24, bringing the vote forward by a year and a half. The move is widely regarded as a plan to shore up his power in the country and comes as international pressure mounts on the president over his suppression of political dissent.

The demonstrators were later joined by a larger group protesting Erdogan’s treatment of the Kurds – as well as a handful of counter-protestors seemingly chanting in support of the president. Erdogan has already stoked controversy on the trip by meeting Germany international footballers Mesut Ozil of Arsenal and Ilkay Gundogan of Manchester City. Turkey’s football chief yesterday condemned as “slanderous” and “unacceptable” German criticism of the meeting, with Berlin’s football association head Reinhard Grindel saying the pair had been “manipulated”. – Agencies