Erdoğan calls on Turks to boycott French goods

(Updates with remarks from Merkel, Maas)

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan called on the country’s citizens to boycott French products as anger in the Muslim world intensified over French President Emmanuel Macron’s comments on Islam.

“I am calling on my nation, do not buy French products,” Erdoğan said in a televised speech at the presidential palace in Ankara on Monday.

France recalled its ambassador to Turkey for consultations on Saturday after Erdoğan questioned the mental health of Macron and his attitude toward Islam and Muslims. Macron has slammed radical Muslims in France who practice what the French leader termed “Islamist separatism”.

“If there is persecution of Muslims in France then I call on world leaders to act together to protect them,” Erdoğan said.

Erdoğan, devoutly religious, has sought to position himself as a leader of the Muslim world. His country hosts leaders of political Islamist movements Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood. He has slammed Israel as a terrorist state for its treatment of Palestinians. 

A Muslim man beheaded a teacher who had shown caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad in a class on freedom of expression in Paris earlier this month. Muslims believe that any depiction of the Prophet is blasphemous.

Macron described Islam as a religion “in crisis” and said he would present legislation in December to strengthen a law that officially separates church and state.

Erdoğan also took aim at German Chancellor Angela Merkel, asking her to explain how there can be religious freedoms in Germany when 100 police stormed a mosque. German police raided a mosque in Berlin last week citing a fraud investigation into alleged false claims for COVID-19 subsidies. Turkey's Foreign Ministry said the raid occurred during morning prayer and police showed disrespect by failing to take off their shoes. 

Hostility towards Muslims had become official policy in some EU countries at the level of heads of state, Erdoğan said. He called on the European Parliament to take action.

France is among the few countries which Turkey maintains a trade surplus with and the country’s exports to France total $7.9 billion while imports register at $6.8 billion, Turkish economist Emin Çapa said on Monday.

"The boycott (of French products) would inflict damage on us,’’ Çapa said on Twitter.

Meanwhile, in Turkey’s largest city of Istanbul, a group of protesters caused confusion when they attempted to remove a Russian flag, instead of a French flag, from the entrance of a hotel.

Later on Monday, the German government called a series of attacks by Erdoğan against France’s Macron “defamatory” and “unacceptable” and expressed solidarity with Paris.

Merkel has strongly condemned Erdoğan’s fiery remarks about Macron, AFP cited her spokesman as saying on Monday.

“They are defamatory comments that are completely unacceptable, particularly against the backdrop of the horrific murder of the French teacher Samuel Paty by an Islamist fanatic,”  Steffen Seibert said, according to AFP.

German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas on Monday also condemned Erdoğan’s remarks against Macron, labelling them as “a new low”.

The German government stood in solidarity with its European neighbour in the “fight against Islamist extremism,” Maas told reporters at a joint press conference with the leader of the Atomic Energy Agency, according to German broadcaster Deutsche Welle.

“We have great understanding for (France’s) diplomatic measures and we support them,” Maas said.