x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Turkey is a model for every Muslim state, Recep Erdogan says

Turkey's prime minister has held up his country as a model for Muslim states with its decade of record economic growth, rising political power in the region and democratic reforms. Thomas Seibert reports from Istanbul

"We have shown everyone … that democracy in its best and most advanced form can be seen in a country with a Muslim population," Recep Tayyip Erdogan said.

ISTANBUL // Turkey's prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan held his country up yesterday as a model for Muslim states with its decade of record economic growth, rising political power in the region and democratic reforms.

Mr Erdogan was re-elected unopposed for a final term as leader of the ruling Justice and Development Party, and is widely expected to run for president in 2014.

With Egypt's president Mohammed Morsi and the outgoing Hamas chief Khaled Meshal in the audience in Ankara, Mr Erdogan said his party had ended a tradition of military involvement in politics and taken a stance "against authoritarianism of every kind and for … a government shaped by the preferences of the people".

"We have shown everyone … that democracy in its best and most advanced form can be seen in a country with a Muslim population," Mr Erdogan said.

"This approach has transcended our borders and has become an example to all Muslim nations," the prime minister said.

Referring to a string of political reforms to rein in the political power of the military, Mr Erdogan declared that "the era of military coups in this country is over". Turkey's generals pushed four elected governments from power between 1960 and 1997 and threatened to unseat Mr Erdogan in 2007.

Mr Erdogan also used his speech to reach out to Turkey's Kurds, the biggest ethnic minority in the country, with about 12 million people in a nation of 75 million.

"We want to draw a new roadmap with our Kurdish brothers," Mr Erdogan said. "Come, let's solve these problems together."

In several television interviews before the party convention, the prime minister said new talks with the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), the Kurdish rebel group fighting against Ankara since 1984, were possible. He said those talks could also include Abdullah Ocalan, the jailed PKK leader.

"Talks with Imrali are possible again," Mr Erdogan said. Imrali is the name of a prison island near Istanbul, where Ocalan has been serving a life sentence since 1999.

A previous attempt to find an agreement with the PKK during secret talks between intelligence officials and rebel representatives in Norway ended without a breakthrough last year.

Mehmet Ocalan, a brother of the jailed PKK leader, said after a recent visit to the Imrali prison island that his brother was ready to play a role in new negotiations.

"If the state is serious, I will do everything to make sure that the PKK lays down its weapons," the jailed leader told his brother.

tseibert@thenational.ae