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Turkey tells Mubarak to listen to the people

ANKARA (Reuters) - Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak should heed his people’s desire for change, Turkey’s Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan said on Tuesday, piling pressure on Mubarak to end his 30-year rule in the face of mass protests.

File photo of Turkey's Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan (L) and Egypt's President Hosni Mubarak as they pose before a meeting in Istanbul February 11, 2009. REUTERS/Ibrahim Usta/Pool/Files

As more than 200,000 protesters gathered in Cairo’s Tahrir Square demanding Mubarak quit, Erdogan said the Egyptian ruler should ponder his legacy.

“Mr. Hosni Mubarak: I want to make a very sincere recommendation, a very candid warning... All of us will die and will be questioned over what we left behind,” Erdogan said in a televised address to members of the ruling AK Party. “As Muslims, where we all go is a two cubic metre hole,” he said.

“Listen to the shouting of the people, the extremely humane demands. Without hesitation, satisfy the people’s desire for change,” Erdogan said.

Erdogan, whose country is held up as a model for democracy in Muslim nations and has been watching the unrest rocking the Middle East with concern, went on to say the solution to political problems lay in elections. The United States and other Western powers have urged Mubarak to hold free elections.

“If there is a problem, the place for solution is the ballot box,” Erdogan said.

Muslim but secular Turkey’s diplomatic clout in the Middle East has risen in the past few years, as its past friendship with Israel dwindled following Erdogan’s strong stand against Israeli policies towards Palestinians.

Saying his own Justice and Development Party, known as the AK Party, sympathised with the downtrodden, Erdogan expressed solidarity with the Tunisians and Egyptians as their country passed through political turmoil.

“Turkey is side by side with the peoples of Tunisia and Egypt at this critical time,” Erdogan said.

His government projects itself as a force for stability in a volatile region, and as a bridge between Europe and the Middle East.

“The Middle East has become a region associated with wars, conflcits, blood, tears, poverty, corruption, ignorance and abuse of human rights. We as Turkey believe that the Middle East and Arab peoples do not deserve this.”

U.S. President Barack Obama called Erdogan on Saturday evening to discuss the turmoil in the region and stressed the importance of Erdogan as an elected leader of a country in the region with strong democratic traditions.

A statement from the Turkish prime minister’s office said the two had agreed that it was necessary to meet the legitimate and natural democratic rights of people in the region and spoke of concerns about instability harming neighbouring countries.

Deepening ties between NATO-member Turkey and the countries of the Middle East, most notably Iran, have however raised some concerns that Turkey risks weakening its Western orientation.

Writing by Ibon Villelabeitia and Daren Butler; Editing by Louise Ireland