New Zealand's FM Goes to Turkey to Confront Erdogan Over Comments on Christchurch Shooting

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Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan as he speaks during his Justice and Development Party (AK Party) and Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) local election campaign rally in Izmir, March 17, 2019.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan as he speaks during his Justice and Development Party (AK Party) and Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) local election campaign rally in Izmir, March 17, 2019.Credit: AFP

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said on Wednesday Foreign Minister Winston Peters will travel to Turkey to “confront” comments made by Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan on the killing of at least 50 people at mosques in Christchurch.

Australian Brenton Tarrant, 28, a suspected white supremacist, was charged with murder on Saturday after a lone gunman opened fire at the two mosques during Friday prayers.

Erdogan - who is seeking to drum up support for his Islamist-rooted AK Party in March 31 local elections - said Turkey would make the suspected attacker pay if New Zealand did not.

>> Read more: After Christchurch and Pittsburgh, U.S. Jews and Muslims need each other more than ever | Opinion From satirical memes to massacring Muslims: How the dark web turns white supremacists into terrorists

The comments came at a campaign rally that included video footage of the shootings which the alleged gunman had broadcast on Facebook.

The Turkish president also published an op-ed in the Washington Post on Wednesday in which he addressed the shooting again as well as the shooter's background.

Students from Christchurch high schools light candles at a floral tribute at the Botanical Gardens in Christchurch, New Zealand, March 19, 2019. Credit: Mark Baker/AP

"There were many historical references on the murder weapons and in a manifesto that the suspected terrorist published online. The number of times he mentioned both Turkey and myself was both curious and worth deeper consideration," Erdogan wrote. 

He noted that the shooter visited Turkey twice in 2016, where he "spent time in various parts of the country." 

Erdogan called on Western countries to voice a clear stance against violence and hatred in the wake of the shooting: "It is crucial to establish that such twisted ideologies, such as anti-Semitism, amount to crimes against humanity," he added. 

"If the world wants to prevent future assaults similar to the one in New Zealand," the Turkish president concluded, "it must start by establishing that what happened was the product of a coordinated smear campaign."

Ardern said Peters would seek urgent clarification.

“Our deputy prime minister will be confronting those comments in Turkey,” Ardern told reporters in Christchurch. “He is going there to set the record straight, face-to-face.”

Peters had earlier condemned the airing of footage of the shooting, which he said could endanger New Zealander’s aboard.

Despite Peters’ intervention, an extract from Tarrant’s alleged manifesto was flashed up on a screen at Erdogan’s rally again on Tuesday, along with footage of the gunman entering one of the mosques and shooting as he approached the door.

Meanwhile, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said he summoned Turkey’s ambassador for a meeting, during which he demanded Erdogan’s comments be removed from Turkey’s state broadcaster.

“I will wait to see what the response is from the Turkish government before taking further action, but I can tell you that all options are on the table,” Morrison told reporters in Canberra.

Morrison said Australia’s ambassador to Turkey will on Wednesday meet with the members of Erdogan’s government.

Morrison said Canberra is also reconsidering its travel advice for Australians planning trips to Turkey.

Relations between Turkey, New Zealand and Australia have generally been good. Thousands of Australians and New Zealanders travel each year to Turkey for war memorial services

Just over a century ago, thousands of soldiers from the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps (ANZAC) struggled ashore on a narrow beach at Gallipoli during an ill-fated campaign that would claim more than 130,000 lives.

The area has become a site of pilgrimage for visitors who honor their nations’ fallen in graveyards halfway around the world on ANZAC Day every April 25.

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