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Turkey says Muslims oppose Dane's NATO candidacy

By Selcan Hacaoglu
Associated Press Writer / March 28, 2009
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ANKARA, Turkey—Turkey's prime minister has said there is strong opposition from Muslim nations to Denmark's prime minister becoming the next NATO chief and indicated the candidacy threatened to harm the alliance.

Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen, seen as the likeliest candidate to replace Jaap de Hoop Scheffer as NATO secretary-general Aug. 1, infuriated some Muslims by speaking out in favor of freedom of speech during an uproar over Danish publication of cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad in 2006. He has also angered Turkey by opposing its membership in the European Union.

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, leader of the Islamic-rooted ruling party, told NTV television in an interview late Friday that he had spoken to Fogh Rasmussen and informed him about opposition to his candidacy.

"We don't want NATO to be damaged and we don't think it is right that you as prime minister should be damaged in this process," Erdogan said he told Fogh Rasmussen. He did not say when the conversation took place.

Turkish President Abdullah Gul had said Friday that Ankara had nothing against Fogh Rasmussen and described him as "one of the most successful prime ministers" in Europe.

Turkish officials however, said there was no contradiction in the two leaders' stances.

A spokesman for the president said Gul's statement was not an endorsement of Fogh Rasmussen's candidacy. He said Gul was merely trying to explain "that Turkey does not have any prejudices against anyone."

An aide to Erdogan said no decision had yet been made and Turkey was still assessing who should head NATO. Both men spoke on condition of anonymity because of rules that bar civil servants from making press statements without prior authorization.

Erdogan has lately become more vocal in publicly criticizing countries that he sees offending or attacking Muslims. His public scolding of Israeli President Shimon Peres at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, over the killings of civilians in Gaza made him a hero in the broader Muslim world.

"There has been a serious reaction in countries with Muslim populations over the cartoons crisis. Now, these countries are calling us and saying 'no way,'" Erdogan said to explain the pressure he is under from Muslim countries to try to block Fogh Rasmussen's candidacy.

Turkey also strongly criticized Fogh Rasmussen during the cartoons crisis.

Asked whether his words should be read as a veto threat, Erdogan said he has told Fogh Rasmussen that "as a party leader, I cannot contradict the principles of my party. You can imagine what it would mean."

Turkey has the right to a veto, but decisions on the next NATO secretary-general are usually taken by consensus. It would be difficult for Turkey to oppose Fogh Rasmussen if the 25 other member states back him.

Erdogan also criticized Fogh Rasmussen for his unwillingness to stop broadcasts by a Kurdish satellite television station, Roj TV, which Turkey accuses of being a propaganda machine for Turkey's Kurdish rebels.

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Associated Press Writer Suzan Fraser in Ankara contributed to this report.

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