SYDNEY (AFP/Pravda)–Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan received a mixed greeting on the first day of his visit to Australia’s largest city–Sydney. He was harangued by protesters outside a business function and then mobbed by well-wishers on a surprise visit to a local mosque.
A peaceful protest of about 50 people jeered Erdogan as he entered a business forum in central Sydney–calling for Turkey to formally recognize the Armenian genocide of 1915.
Erdogan then canceled a planned speech to an international policy think-tank to make an unannounced visit to Friday prayers at western Sydney’s Gallipoli mosque–named for the battlefield where Australians and Turks fought a bloody battle in World War I.
During the visit–which was kept secret from the media–Erdogan posed for photographs with children as a crowd of about 500 people from the local Turkish community cheered him on.
Australian officials denied the last-minute change of plan was due to the protest but said the mosque visit was kept secret because of the possibility of demonstrations.
Protest organizer Haig Kayserian said the itinerary change showed Erdogan’s sensitivity to human rights issues as Turkey attempts to join the European Union.
"The Turkish government has covered up the massacre of 1.5 million Armenia’s for 90 years and it doesn’t want its appalling human rights record coming to light now because it knows Europe is watching," he told AFP.
Earlier this year–the EU assembly issued a resolution calling on Turkey–to recognize the Genocide as a prerequisite to joining the EU.
Erdogan is making the first visit to Australia by a Turkish leader. He arrived in Sydney earlier Friday and will remain in the country until Sunday. The visit is aimed at drumming up trade and discussing issues such as the war on terror with Erdogan’s Australian counterpart–Prime Minister John Howard.