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PM to give Turkey as example to region

ANKARA – Hürriyet Daily News | 9/12/2011 12:00:00 AM |

On a momentous tour of Egypt, Tunisia and Libya after the overthrow of their long-time rulers, Erdoğan, who is expected to be welcomed by thousands in Cairo on Monday, is set to promote Turkey as an exampleof democratic progress and send a warning to Syria that Ankara’s ‘final word’ on the turmoil is imminent

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is set to issue a strong appeal for democratic reform across the Arab world and showcase his party as an example when he speaks in Cairo on Tuesday in what a senior aide said would be a “historic” address.

Erdoğan, set to speak at an Arab League meeting and at Cairo University, is expected to include a warning to Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad that he is on the verge of losing his legitimacy and Turkey’s friendship. Erdoğan’s trip to Egypt is part of a tour of “Arab Spring” countries that will take him to Tunisia and Libya as well at a time when his popularity on the Arab streets has soared with Turkey’s tough attitude in a simmering crisis with Israel.

The Egyptian government was also under pressure from high public support for Erdoğan, with many photographs of the prime minister having been plastered to billboards across the city. Many people gathered to celebrate Erdoğan’s arrival to Cairo and called on the Egyptian government to adopt Turkey’s recent attitude against Israel, Anatolia news agency reported Monday.

“[Erdoğan] will convey very important messages. He will deliver historic speeches both at the Arab League and Cairo University,” Ömer Çelik, deputy chairman of the ruling Justice and Development Party, or AKP, said in remarks published in the daily Yeni Şafak. Çelik said Turkey was “at the heart of revolutionary change in the Middle East,” embraced by Arab people as a model of co-habitation between Islam and democracy. Erdoğan himself cast his party as an example for Arabs to consider in efforts for democratic change.

“Justice and development, plus clean politics – this is what we have been doing. We hope we will lay the ground work for similar structures in the Middle East,” Erdoğan said, according to the full text of an interview with Al Jazeera television, carried by the Anatolia news agency. Erdoğan objected to politicizing Islam but stressed that “politics is the most natural right of any Muslim” provided that they respect the law.

“Let everybody set up their parties. Let the people elect who they are happy with,” he said. “The people are looking for a transition from an autocratic to a democratic system and we have to help them.”

The Turkish prime minister will be accompanied on his trip to Egypt by Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu, Transportation Minister Binali Yıldırım, Culture and Tourism Minister Ertuğrul Günay, Defense Minister İsmet Yılmaz, Energy Minister Taner Yıldız and Economy Minister Zafer Çağlayan; agreements to be signed between the two countries are expected to focus on these areas. The ministers and a group of journalists departed at 4:30 p.m. Monday, with the prime minister scheduled to leave at 9 p.m.

[HH] ‘Final word’ on Syria imminent

Erdoğan said his speech at the Arab League foreign ministers’ meeting would include a message to Assad before Turkey says its “final word” on the Syrian turmoil. “Assad has cast a shadow on his legitimacy and has come close to losing it,” Erdoğan said, adding that he had cut off contact with the Syrian leader. “We are coming to the point where we will say our final words,” he said. “In my speech [at the Arab League] I will address the whole region, including Syria. It’s up to the Syrian administration to hear that message. If not, they will lose us.”

[HH] Tour extended

Erdoğan, who was scheduled to arrive in Cairo late Monday, has decided to extend his stay in Tunisia, his second stop, to two days, an aide said. Under the modified program, Erdoğan will now visit Libya on Friday, but it is unclear whether he will go to Tripoli, the aide said, adding that the rebel stronghold of Benghazi will be the prime minister’s “most likely” destination.

[HH] ‘Longing’ for Gaza

Erdoğan had initially planned to cross from Egypt into the Gaza Strip, but the idea was dropped so as not to create fresh diplomatic troubles for Egypt in its ties with Israel. Relations between the two countries worsened after six Egyptian policemen were killed on the border last month.

“We are not in favor of unnecessary tensions. I know our brothers in Gaza are waiting for me. I’m also longing for Gaza. Sooner or later I will go to Gaza,” he said. In comments on Turkey’s recent decision to downgrade ties with Israel, Erdoğan said the killing of nine Turks on a Gaza-bound aid ship last year “actually amounted to a reason for war” but Ankara at the time opted to act with patience.

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