Buoyant Erdogan visits birthplace of Arab Spring

TUNIS — Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Thursday fired his visit to post-revolution Tunisia with the kind of trademark warning to Israel that has earned him hero status on his “Arab Spring tour”.

By (AFP)

Published: Thu 15 Sep 2011, 6:00 PM

Last updated: Tue 7 Apr 2015, 1:46 AM

After a rapturous welcome in Cairo confirmed the Turkish strongman’s soaring regional popularity, Erdogan came to Tunisia where the wave of pro-democracy revolts sweeping the Arab world all began.

“Israel will no longer be able to do what it wants in the Mediterranean and you’ll be seeing Turkish warships in this sea,” Erdogan said after a meeting with his Tunisian counterpart Beji Caid Essebsi.

He reiterated his insistence on an Israeli apology for last year’s raid on a Gaza-bound aid flotilla that left nine pro-Palestinian activists dead, all of them Turks or of Turkish origin.

“Relations with Israel cannot normalise if Israel does not apologise over the flotilla raid, compensate the martyrs’ families and lift the blockade of Gaza,” Erdogan said.

Turkey was one of the first countries to support the popular uprising that started late last year and in January sent Zine el Abidine Ben Ali fleeing into exile after 23 years in power.

Erdogan’s visit marks “the willingness to strengthen brotherly relations and cooperation between Tunisia and Turkey”, the Tunisian foreign ministry said in a statement.

Turkey’s foreign minister was one of the first top foreign officials to visit Tunisia in February.

Accompanied by a delegation of ministers and businessmen, Erdogan arrived late Wednesday at Tunis international airport, where he was welcomed by Essebsi.

Around 4,000 people waving Turkish and Palestinian flags had also gathered at the airport under heavy security to show their support for the man who has grown to become one of the region’s most popular leaders.

Erdogan was also expected to hold talks with Ennahda chairman Rached Ghannouchi.

Ghannouchi’s moderate Islamist party, which is expected to win Tunisia’s first post-revolution elections on October 23, claims inspiration from Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party.

Erdogan’s popularity in the Arab world has stemmed mainly from his strong confrontations with Israel, at a time when regional leaders were seen by their people as impotent when it comes to the Jewish state and the West.

On the previous stage of his “Arab Spring tour”, Erdogan visited Egypt, where some drew comparisons with the late Gamal Abdel Nasser, whose pan-Arabism and defiance of foreign powers made him a regional hero in the 1950s.

The 57-year-old has also become a champion of the Palestinian cause, which is entering a crucial phase with the Palestinian Authority’s plan to take a further step towards statehood by seeking UN membership later this month.

In a keynote address to the Arab League in Cairo on Wednesday, Erdogan argued that supporting the Palestinian bid was an obligation.

Erdogan is due in Libya on Friday for the final leg of his tour.

Turkey, the only mainly Muslim member of NATO, gradually took a hard line against the old Libyan regime, after initially criticising Western air strikes against the forces of Muammar Gaddafi.

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