Istanbul cafe handed hefty fine after Erdogan scolds smoker

ISTANBUL (Reuters) - An Istanbul cafe was fined 6,000 lira ($2,680) on Monday after President Tayyip Erdogan scolded one of its clients from the street below for smoking and demanded the establishment be punished.

The sight of Erdogan wagging his finger at the smoker as crowds of curious onlookers took pictures with their phones triggered a backlash on social media, with his opponents seeing it as evidence of an increasingly authoritarian nature.

Smoking indoors is banned in public places in Turkey.

“There is a penalty for this!” Erdogan shouted, pointing towards the second floor of the cafe.

“That rude man, look at him. The President is telling him (not to smoke) but he is still continuing,” Erdogan told his aides as he continued a stroll through the neighborhood of Esenler after a ceremony for government buildings on Sunday.

Responding to the episode, one twitter user wrote “smoking is healthier than fascism”, using a hashtag directed at the president: “#cigarettes are not as harmful as you”.

Smoking is far more widespread in Istanbul than in many European cities. The ruling AK Party has taken a raft of steps to try to curb it, from the indoor ban to blurring out images of cigarettes on TV and imposing high taxes.

“The President saw it. The TVs recorded it,” Esenler local government official Yuksel Unal was quoted by the Hurriyet daily as saying. “Our authority to fine is between 1,200 lira and 6,000 lira and we used our rights here ... by imposing a fine from the upper end of the band.”

Critics of Erdogan, a devout Muslim with roots in Islamist politics, accuse him of meddling in private life, from his declaration of a form of yoghurt as the national drink over the aniseed spirit raki, to his suggestion women should bear three children.

Reporting by Humeyra Pamuk; Editing by Nick Tattersall and Ralph Boulton