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Turkish PM Erdoğan polishes his image in Muslim world

THATTA, Pakistan – Agence France-Presse | 10/15/2010 12:00:00 AM |

The Turkish prime minister toured this week parts of Pakistan, using the visit to attack Israel and polish his image as a champion of Muslim solidarity.

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan toured this week parts of Pakistan devastated by floods, using the visit to attack Israel and polish his image as a champion of Muslim solidarity.

"My brothers, we share the same faith," Erdoğan told his Pakistani counterpart, Yousuf Raza Gilani, as well as hundreds of supporters in a tent near the town of Thatta, which was evacuated when the waters of the Indus River rose earlier this year.

Erdoğan traveled from Islamabad to Karachi with six ministers, flying by helicopter to witness aid efforts, including the completion of a village of 2,000 prefabricated houses built by the Turkish Red Crescent near Multan, in the eastern province of Punjab.

"We love you and I believe you love us. Pakistan... did not abandon us after the 1999 earthquake," said Erdoğan, referring to a quake in northwestern Turkey that killed roughly 20,000 people.

During the visit, Erdoğan focused his messages on Muslim solidarity and of moderate Islam’s challenge to beat back the rising tide of extremism.

"Islam is committed to peace, and we are believers of Islam. Those who follow the faith of Islam cannot kill people," he said, citing a "common battle" against terrorism.

The Turkish prime minister also launched a fresh attack on Jerusalem over Israel’s deadly raid against Gaza-bound aid ships on May 31, which killed eight Turks and one American of Turkish descent. "Israel must apologize to Turkey and pay compensation. If it does not, it will be doomed to remain isolated in the Middle East," Erdoğan said.

Ties between Turkey and Israel, once regional allies, have been in tatters since the raid. The raid, and Turkey's subsequently furious reaction, boosted Erdoğan's popularity in the Arab and Muslim world, which was already well established following his scathing condemnation of the Israeli offensive on the Gaza Strip in late 2008. Turkish flags have mushroomed in Gaza, and Palestinian parents have even named their children after the head of the Turkish government.

Meanwhile, Turkey's ambassador to Pakistan, Babur Hızlan, accused members of the Organization of the Islamic Conference, or OIC, of not doing enough for the estimated 20 million people affected by the Pakistan floods. "Within the OIC, countries are very helpful, but overall, it is not enough," Hızlan told reporters.

Rauf Engin Soysal, U.N. special envoy to Pakistan, said only a third of the $2 billion aid requested by the U.N. had been covered so far. Turkey has sent "at least $125 million of aid, both by the government and nongovernmental organizations," said Soysal.

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