ANKARA (Reuters) - Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak should heed his people’s desire for change, Turkey’s Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan said Tuesday, piling pressure on Mubarak to end his 30-year rule in the face of mass protests.
As hundreds of thousands of Egyptians rallied in Cairo, Erdogan stopped short of explicitly calling for Mubarak’s resignation but urged the Egyptian leader to 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 speech to members of his ruling AK Party in Ankara.
“As Muslims, where we all go is a two cubic meter hole,” he said. The speech was broadcast live by some Arabic-language channels.
“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 in the West for democracy in Muslim nations and has seen its influence rise in recent years in the Middle East, went on to say the solution to political problems lay in elections.
“If there is a problem, the place for solution is the ballot box,” Erdogan said. The United States and other Western powers have also urged Mubarak to hold free elections.
Erdogan later said he was putting off a visit to Cairo planned for Feb 8-9, but would go once Egypt returns to normal.
TURKEY’S RISING INFLUENCE
Erdogan’s condemnation of Israel for its policies toward Palestinians has turned him into a hero in the Arab street and analysts say non-Arab Turkey has become a rival to Egypt’s once economic, political and cultural primacy in the Middle East.
Ankara, a close U.S. ally, has been watching the unrest rocking Egypt and Tunisia with concern about instability harming neighboring countries.
Underlying the importance the United States places on Turkey in the volatile region, Ankara has been in close contact with Washington over Egypt, which caught the United States off guard and left it facing a struggle to balance strategic interests.
“They (the Americans) are asking us: ‘How do you see all these things that are going on right now and how should these developments be evaluated?” a Turkish official said on condition of anonymity.
U.S. President Barack Obama called Erdogan over the weekend 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.
Saying his own Justice and Development Party, known as the AK Party, sympathized 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.
“The Middle East has become a region associated with wars, conflicts, 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.”
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.
Additional reporting by Tulay Karadeniz; Writing by Ibon Villelabeitia and Daren Butler; Editing by Maria Golovnina
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