Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has stormed off the stage at the World Economic Forum in Davos after a debate with Israel’s president.
Mr Erdogan clashed with Shimon Peres in a discussion on the recent fighting in the Gaza Strip, telling him: “You are killing people.” Mr Peres said Mr Erdogan would have done the same had rockets hit Istanbul. Mr Erdogan accused the moderator of not allowing him to speak and said he did not think he would return to Davos.
He stressed later that he had left the debate not because of his disagreements with Mr Peres but because he had been given much less time to speak than the Israeli leader. Turkey is one of the few Muslim countries to have dealings with Israel, but relations have been under strain since the Islamist-rooted AK Party was elected to power in 2002.
Mr Erdogan was cut off as he attempted to reply to a passionate defence of Israel’s actions made by Mr Peres. Earlier he spoke himself, describing Gaza as an “open-air prison”. The moderator, Washington Post columnist David Ignatius, had given him a minute to reply, then asked him to finish, saying that people needed to go to dinner.
“I do not think I will be coming back to Davos after this because you do not let me speak,” Mr Erdogan shouted before marching off the stage in front of Mr Peres, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and an elite audience of ministers and international officials.
Mr Peres had told the audience Israel was forced on to the offensive against Hamas by thousands of rockets and mortars fired into Israel. “The tragedy of Gaza is not Israel, it is Hamas,” the Israeli leader said. “They created a dictatorship. A very dangerous one.”
More than 1,300 Palestinians and 14 Israelis were killed during the three-week conflict which began on 27 December.
At news conference later on Thursday, Mr Erdogan complained that he had been allowed to speak just 12 minutes to 25 for Mr Peres. “I did not target at all in any way the Israeli people, President Peres or the Jewish people,” he said. “I am a prime minister, a leader who has specifically expressly stated that anti-Semitism is a crime against humanity.”