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Turkish PM hailed as hero on return

TURKISH Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan received a hero's welcome on his return to Istanbul yesterday after he stormed out of a heated debate on Israel's Gaza offensive at the World Economic Forum in Davos.

Thousands of people gathered at Ataturk airport to greet Erdogan when he returned, waving Turkish and Palestinian flags and chanting "Turkey is proud of you."

After a fiery exchange with Israeli President Shimon Peres on Thursday in which he said: "When it comes to killing, you know very well how to kill," Erdogan said he might never return to the gathering of the rich and powerful.

During a debate on the Middle East Peres had defended his country's assault on Gaza over the past month and, with a raised voice and pointed finger, asked what Erdogan would do if rockets were fired at Istanbul every night.

"Our people would have expected the same reaction from any Turkish prime minister," Erdogan told a news conference at the airport yesterday morning. "This was a matter of the esteem and prestige of my country. Hence, my reaction had to be clear. I could not have allowed anyone to poison the prestige and the honor of my country."

"Our reproach is totally against the Israeli administration," Erdogan said.

Turks gave a mixed reaction to Erdogan's walk-out, former diplomats saying it was likely to fuel tension between Israel and Turkey and might weaken Ankara's position as a neutral mediator in the Middle East.

Peres had asked Erdogan directly: "What would you do if you were to have in Istanbul every night a hundred rockets?"

Erdogan, visibly angry, had responded strongly to Peres's repeated question of what they would do in Israel's position.

"President Peres you are older than me and your voice is very loud. The reason for you raising your voice is the psychology of guilt. I will not raise my voice that much. When it comes to killing you know very well how to kill. I know very well how you hit and killed children on the beaches," Erdogan said.


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