Turkey summons Italy envoy over PM's 'ugly' Erdogan remarks

Turkey summons Italy envoy over PM's 'ugly' Erdogan remarks
Turkey summoned the Italian ambassador to Ankara to protest remarks made by the European country's prime minister on Thursday.
3 min read
Italy's PM described Erdogan as a dictator [Getty]
Turkey on Thursday lashed out at Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi's "ugly" comparison of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to a tyrant.

Draghi on Thursday accused Erdogan of being a dictator for holding a summit with the EU's two top leaders in which European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen ended up without a chair.

Turkish officials rejected blame for the episode, insisting that they were following the protocol instructions they had received from the EU.

The Turkish foreign ministry immediately summoned the Italian ambassador to Ankara to protest Draghi's remarks, in which he said von der Leyen had been subjected to "humiliation" by the Turks.

"We strongly condemn the unacceptable populist remarks, and the ugly and unreasonable comments made by the appointed Italian Prime Minister Draghi," Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu tweeted.

Omer Celik, the spokesman for Erdogan's ruling AK Party, said he "regretted" Draghi's comments because they do "not reflect the depth of Turkish-Italian relations".

Draghi was speaking at a news conference after being asked about a diplomatic row over seating arrangements during the meeting between Erdogan and von der Leyen on Tuesday.

The room where the three leaders were hosted had only two chairs arranged next to the corresponding EU and Turkish flags.

Erdogan and Michel quickly seated themselves while von der Leyen - whose diplomatic rank is the same as that of the two men - was left standing.

"Ehm," she said, spreading her arms in wonder and looking directly at Michel and Erdogan.

Official images later showed her seated on a sofa opposite Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu.

"I am very sorry for the humiliation that the president of the commission had to suffer with these, let's call them for what they are, dictators, but with whom we need to cooperate," Draghi told reporters.

'Symbol of disunity' 

The episode came with the European Union's leadership under mounting pressure over the bloc's slow coronavirus inoculation effort and strains emerging between the 27 member states.

Several European Parliament groups demanded an investigation into how von der Leyen was left standing while Michel took a seat.

"The setting for this meeting does not seem to be based on order of precedence... but rather by a male-chauvinist way of representation of an autocrat," Belgian European Parliament member Assita Kanko wrote in a formal question to Michel.

Read also: Why Syrian refugees in Turkey urgently need a new EU migration deal

The conservative EPP grouping's leader Manfred Weber told Politico the trip to Ankara had become "a symbol of disunity" between the EU's top officials.

And French far-right leader Marine Le Pen called the entire visit a bad idea because it showed the bloc "lying down before a hostile" Erdogan.

Von der Leyen's spokesman meanwhile refused to be drawn on speculation that none of this would have happened had the European Commission followed the European Council's example and sent a protocol team to Ankara.

"President (von der Leyen) simply wishes that these questions be analysed so that we do not face the same types of questions on our next mission," Eric Memer told reporters.

Agencies contributed to this report.

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