Erdogan files complaint against French magazine over ethnic cleansing comment

ISTANBUL (Reuters) - Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan has filed a criminal complaint against a French magazine after it accused him of conducting ethnic cleansing in northeast Syria, state-owned Anadolu Agency said on Friday.

FILE PHOTO: Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan attends a joint news conference with Russian President Vladimir Putin (not pictured) following Russian-Turkish talks in the Black sea resort of Sochi, Russia October 22, 2019. Sergei Chirikov/Pool via REUTERS/File Photo

Erdogan sent troops into northeast Syria on Oct. 9 to attack Kurdish YPG forces, which he views as terrorists linked to Kurdish insurgents operating inside Turkey.

Under a ceasefire plan now in force, the YPG is required to withdraw from an area within 30 km (19 miles) of the Turkish border. Ankara hopes to create a “safe zone” there where it can resettle Syrian refugees currently living in Turkey.

Turkey’s Western allies condemned its offensive and have expressed concerns that repatriating the refugees will change the demographic composition of the border area, much of which has a Kurdish majority.

The front page of this week’s edition of Le Point magazine features a picture of Erdogan making a military salute with the words: “Ethnic cleansing, the Erdogan method” and “Are we going to let him massacre the Kurds?”

Erdogan has asked Ankara prosecutors to open a case against Etienne Gernelle, the managing editor of Le Point, and Romain Gubert, the author of the article, Anadolu reported. The complaint accuses them of insulting the president, a crime in Turkey.

Other Western media have also accused Turkey of carrying out ethnic cleaning in the Syrian border region.

Erdogan’s spokesman, Ibrahim Kalin, criticized the article in Le Point and what he sees as France’s anti-Turkey stance, saying on Thursday that France had colonized many countries in the past and slaughtered thousands of people.

“They (France) are trying every way to protect their puppets but to no avail,” he said, referring to the YPG. “Kurds are not your contractors and they will not be. Your colonizing days are over.”

French President Emmanuel Macron has been one of the leading Western critics of Turkey’s operation in Syria, describing it as “crazy”. He has also expressed frustration at NATO’s inability to check Turkey, an alliance member.

Turkey says the YPG does not represent the Kurds and that its operation in Syria only targets the militia. Kurds make up about 18 percent of Turkey’s own population of 82 million.

Erdogan has also accused the YPG of conducting its own ethnic cleansing against Arabs living in the border area.

Erdogan, who often files lawsuits against those critical of him or his policies, said on Thursday it was better for Arabs to live in the area, pointing at a map of northeast Syria.

“These are not suitable for the lifestyle of Kurds... because they are virtually desert regions,” he said in an interview with state broadcaster TRT.

Reporting by Ali Kucukgocmen; Editing by Gareth Jones