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Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 27 April 2018

‘Cockroaches’ led Turkey’s Erdogan to build new $615m presidential palace

The president's new palace has been ridiculed by the opposition, particularly during the run-up to Sunday's legislative elections.

Workers clean the area in front of the new Turkish presidential palace, ahead of an official reception for Republic Day in the capital Ankara, on October 28, 2014. Stringer/EPA
Workers clean the area in front of the new Turkish presidential palace, ahead of an official reception for Republic Day in the capital Ankara, on October 28, 2014. Stringer/EPA

ISTANBUL // Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan has revealed that he needed to build a multimillion dollar presidential palace because his old offices were infested with cockroaches.

Mr Erdogan’s new US$615 million (Dh2.3bn) palace on the outskirts of Ankara has been ridiculed by the opposition as the tasteless and needless extravagance of an increasingly authoritarian leader.

But in an interview with A-Haber television broadcast late on Friday, Mr Erdogan said that his reasons for needing the vast, 1,150-room palace were much more mundane.

His old offices when he was prime minister from 2003-2014 were infested with cockroaches, he said.

“A guest would come to the old prime ministry office and find cockroaches in the bathroom. That’s why we built this palace.”

“Does such a place befit the prime ministry of Turkey? If a guest comes are you going to put them there? If they see this, what if they tell what they saw?” he asked.

Mr Erdogan has always defended the building of the palace, saying that it is a worthy symbol of the new Turkey he is trying to build.

He has already hosted high-ranking guests there, including Russian president Vladimir Putin and Pope Francis.

Mr Erdogan has also invited ridicule by welcoming guests to the palace with an honour guard of warriors representing historic Turkic empires going back centuries, carrying spears, clad in shiny helmets and boasting spectacular fake moustaches.

“This is the palace of the Turkish nation,” the president said. “Such a representation can never be a waste.”

Mr Erdogan’s election to the presidency in August 2014 led to a musical chairs of palaces: Mr Erdogan moved to the new palace, while prime minister Ahmet Davutoglu moved to the old presidential palace in central Ankara, known as the Cankaya.

Neither leader now uses the old offices of the prime minister – the ones that Mr Erdogan says were infested with cockroaches.

Critics of Mr Erdogan took to Twitter to ridicule his comments, under the hashtag #karafatma – “cockroach” in Turkish – and urging people to vote against his party in Sunday’s legislative elections.

The new palace has been the subject of a sometimes farcical dispute in the run-up to the elections between Mr Erdogan and the main opposition leader, Kemal Kilicdaroglu, who accused him of having golden toilet seats there.

The president dared Mr Kilicdaroglu to personally come to the palace and find the toilet seats, saying that he would resign if he found any.

His lawyer then filed a lawsuit seeking 100,000 Turkish Liras (Dh138,084) in compensation for slander from Mr Kilicdaroglu over the golden toilet seat comment.

Meanwhile, Mr Erdogan stepped up his attacks on foreign media on Saturday, telling the Guardian to “know your limits” and lamenting that “Jewish capital” was behind The New York Times.

Mr Erdogan has repeatedly criticised foreign media during the campaign leading up to Sunday’s polls, amid growing concerns over an erosion of freedom of expression in Turkey under his rule.

In one of the final pre-election rallies, in the eastern province of Ardahan, Mr Erdogan took offence at an article in the Guardian that was critical of his rule, along with an editorial titled “Growing autocracy threatens a crucial country”.

“Do you know what a British newspaper says about this election?” the Turkish president told the crowd. “It says the not fully-westernised, poor Muslims are not being allowed to manage their own country!”

“Who are you? You are impertinent!” he told the paper. “Know your limits. Since when were you given such authority?”

Mr Erdogan also launched a new attack on The New York Times, which has written that there are “dark clouds” over Turkey under his rule.

He said the newspaper had been campaigning against Turkey’s leaders going back to Ottoman Sultan Abdulhamid II, who ruled the Ottoman Empire during the final phase of its decline.

“Now, they are spitting out the same hatred on me ... It’s clear who their patrons are. There is Jewish capital behind it, unfortunately.”

The New York Times had earlier this week hit back at Mr Erdogan’s attacks with a tweet satirising his vast new presidential palace in Ankara.

“Which leader has a 1,150-room palace more than 30x the size of the White House?” the paper tweeted.

Mr Erdogan has also been bitterly critical of opposition Turkish media in the campaign, saying that the secular Cumhuriyet newspaper’s editor-in-chief, Can Dundar, would “pay a heavy price” over a front-page story, which it said proved that Turkey had sent arms to rebels in Syria.

The AKP, which has ruled Turkey since 2002, has been under greater pressure than in previous polls, with the economy losing some of its former sparkle and controversy growing over what critics say are Mr Erdogan’s authoritarian tendencies.

* Agence France-Presse