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Turkey's Erdogan mocks rival for 'not knowing national anthem'

A bitter row erupted Friday (August 1) between Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his main rival in the presidential election after the premier accused his opponent of not recognising the Turkish national anthem.

ANKARA: A bitter row erupted Friday (August 1) between Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his main rival in the presidential election after the premier accused his opponent of not recognising the Turkish national anthem. Erdogan mercilessly mocked Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu for not knowing the Istiklal Marsi (Independence March) anthem, a huge insult in a country which sets great store by patriotism.

Ihsanoglu, a softly-spoken, bespectacled intellectual, had visited a cemetery in Istanbul while campaigning and stopped by the tomb of poet Mehmet Akif Ersoy, the author of the words to the anthem.

The 70-year-old, a former head of the Organisation of the Islamic Cooperation (OIC), boasted that Ersoy was a friend of his father in the early 1900s when the Turkish republic was founded. But he committed a gaffe when he uttered the famous poet's verses from the national anthem written on the tomb only to say that they were from another poem called "Canakkale Sehitleri" (Martyrs of Gallipoli).

Speaking at a mass rally in the city of Kahramanmaras in southeastern Turkey on Friday, Erdogan broke off from his speech to air a video of Ihsanoglu's faux pas on a big screen. Erdogan accused Ihsanoglu of being "incapable of making a distinction between the national anthem and a Gallipoli poem." He slammed Ihsanoglu as an "imported candidate... unable to recognise the national anthem."

Ihsanoglu, who speaks five languages, is a scholar with a long diplomatic career who makes no secret of his devotion to Islam and learning. He is seen as a reconciliatory and moderate figure, in stark contrast to Erdogan, whose uncompromising stance critics say has left Turkish society more polarised than ever.

But the episode is potentially damaging to Ihsanoglu, who has already had to defend his patriotism as he was born in Egypt where his cleric father was living in exile. In an unusually angry reaction, Ihsanoglu on Friday hit out at Erdogan's remarks as a "lie" and a "slander". "I am the son of the closest friend to Mehmet Akif (Ersoy). You must be kidding me. I learned it while sucking my mother's milk before you did," he said, referring to Erdogan.

Ihsanoglu's faux pas created a storm in social media, under the hashtag #istiklalmarsi.

"Can someone who does not know his national anthem be a president? He could not even pass his class," wrote a Twitter user ilhanbozkurt78. But another user @cankurnaz alluded to corruption allegations against Erdogan: "The national anthem can be learnt but impudence, theft and lies are associated with the character, and cannot change."

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