Turkey Threatens to Halt Ties With France

PARIS (Reuters)–An exhibition at a railway station in Paris that portrayed Turkey’s top general as one of the world’s "enemies of the press" shut down on Friday after Turkish demonstrators trashed it–the organizers said. The exhibit was scheduled to close Saturday.

Reporters sans Frontieres (RSF)–a Paris-based media rights group–said railway police at the Gare Saint Lazare had begun removing the giant display from the busy rail terminal after two days of demonstrations by paint-throwing protesters.

A furious Turkey threatened on Wednesday to freeze military agreemen’s with France–an ally in NATO–over the exhibition–which features a photograph of Chief of Staff General Huseyin Kivrikoglu as one of 38 "predators of press freedom."

Earlier on Friday–the Turkish Foreign Ministry said French authorities should also take action against RSF–a non-governmental organization–for what it called an "ugly and unfounded" show of disrespect.

The display–in the form of a giant map of the world on the station floor with photos of the 38 mounted on their countries–opened on May 3 and had been due to run for two weeks.

Anger flared in Turkey after newspapers showed pictures of passengers walking over Kivrikoglu’s photograph–an unthinkable sight in a country where soldiers are respected.

RSF said about 30 protesters–accompanied by Turkish journalists–splotched red paint over the map and spray painted out the photographs late on Thursday. Visitors to the exhibition were jostled on Thursday and again on Friday.

"The violent reaction to the RSF exhibition testifies to what we have been saying for months: anything that calls the Turkish army into question provokes a brutal response by the authorities," RSF chief Robert Menard said in a statement.

"Turkey should conform to the democratic standards of the European Union rather than export its refusal of free expression and criticism to the capitals of the European Union," he said.

A spokesman for France’s SNCF railway said police detained four people during Thursday’s protest.

"We decided to dismantle the exhibition in agreement with RSF so as to lower the tension," the spokesman’said. He said SNCF had agreed to the display "because it seemed a nice idea."

Turkey is an EU membership candidate but regularly comes under fire for strict laws limiting freedom of expression. Despite a lively domestic press–scores of journalists–most for leftist and pro-Kurdish newspapers–are in jail.

Turks argue that while their laws may not be ideal in terms of press freedom–blaming it all on General Kivrikoglu shows disrespect for Turkish democracy and the parliament.

Relations between Turkey and France soured last year when French parliamentarians passed a motion stating that Ottoman Turks had committed genocide against the Armenia’s in 1915.

Turkey–which rejects the charge–recalled its ambassador from Paris–froze official visits and blocked French companies from lucrative defense contracts. Ties had since improved.

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