Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan paid a surprise visit to a Sydney mosque for Friday prayers and was mobbed by up to 500 cheering people. Erdogan had been scheduled to give a speech at a foreign policy think tank lunch, but instead decided to attend prayers at the Auburn Gallipoli Mosque, named for a Turkish peninsula where Australian troops fought a bloody World War I battle.
Well-wishers who had gathered outside the mosque shook the prime minister's hand when he arrived for the hour-long service. He held children and posed for photos as a heavy contingent of Australian and Turkish security officials looked on.
Earlier, he got a less friendly reception when protesters from Sydney's Armenian community chanted outside a hotel calling on Erdogan to recognize the massacre of more than a million Armenians by Turkish forces during and after World War I as a genocide. Earlier this year, the EU assembly issued a resolution also calling on Turkey, which is seeking EU membership, to recognize the killing as genocide.
Erdogan and his wife Emine arrived in Sydney earlier Friday as part of their four-day visit to Australia, which was aimed at drumming up trade and discussing issues such as the war on terror with Erdogan's Australian counterpart Prime Minister John Howard.
On Saturday, Erdogan was due to visit Sydney's landmark Opera House before flying back to Turkey on Sunday. Visiting Canberra on Thursday, Erdogan criticized the coalition military operations in Iraq, saying the country "has become a training ground for terrorism."
"As to whether a solution has been found to the situation in Iraq, we can say that that solution has not been found because tens of people die every day in Iraq, unfortunately," he added. Erdogan was speaking after talks with Howard, who is one of the staunchest supporters of the coalition effort in Iraq, reports the AP. N.U.
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