Turkey PM backs press freedom, warns against stigmatising Muslims

15th January 2015, Comments 0 comments

Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu told the European Union on Thursday they shared many values, including freedom of speech, but warned against stigmatising Muslims in the fallout from the Paris Islamist attacks.

Davutoglu, in Brussels to press for progress on Turkey's stalled EU-membership bid, had warned only hours earlier that publication of cartoons of the Muslim prophet were an "open provocation" and would not be tolerated.

"Freedom of the press does not mean freedom to insult," the premier said in Ankara. "We do not allow any insult to the prophet in this country."

He also accused his Israeli counterpart Benjamin Netanyahu of having committed "crimes against humanity" comparable to those of the Islamist gunmen behind two Paris attacks that left a total of 17 dead.

In Brussels, Davutoglu avoided any reference by name to the Charlie Hebdo magazine which on Wednesday published a new cartoon of the Prophet Mohammed despite the slaying of 12 people in an attack on its offices in the French capital.

Turkish prosecutors immediately said they were opening investigations after some Turkish media picked up the new cartoon.

Davutoglu told reporters after meeting European Union president Donald Tusk that he had been in Paris at the weekend to take part in the Charlie Hebdo solidarity march.

"We were together shoulder to shoulder against terrorism and again here I want to express our condolences and solidarity with the French people," he said.

"We don't want to see any extremist approach, in this (case a) terrorist attack" in Europe which has been and should remain multicultural, he said.

But that also worked the other way, he said, warning of the danger posed by "an exclusivist approach against Muslims," as seen in the emergence of the far-right PEGIDA anti-Islam group in Germany.

For his part, Tusk said the Paris attacks only increased the EU's determination to "defend our fundamental values, including freedom of thought, expression and of the media."

"We might have differences of opinion on the cartoons of Charlie Hebdo. I am sure that some in the EU also disagree with what they say. But we will defend their right to say so," he said.

"For Europe this is a question of fundamental values."

Tusk said that in view of the Paris killings, "we agreed that we should intensify our counter-terrorism dialogue, including to address the threat of ISIL," the extreme Jihadist group which has gained control of large areas of Syria and Iraq.

Turkey is a key country in the struggle to contain Islamic State which has attracted many foreign fighters to its ranks, including up to 5,000 from Europe whose return home, radicalised and well-trained, is feared by EU governments.

EU-Turkey relations have been increasingly strained in recent months as President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has rounded on domestic media and critics.

In December, the EU took a notably harder line on Turkey's membership bid as a result, only for Erdogan to bluntly warn the bloc to mind its own business.

The accession talks have made painfully slow progress since they began in 2005, a fact much regretted by Davutoglu.

Tusk said the "accession process remains the main framework of our relations" but he also stressed that Turkey had to meet the conditions set for opening new negotiating chapters.


© 2015 AFP

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