Turkey demands apology after Draghi calls Erdogan a dictator

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FILE -- In this April 8, 2021 file photo Italian Premier Mario Draghi speaks during a press conference in Rome . Turkey demanded Friday that Italy's premier apologize for having called President Tayyip Erdogan a dictator, adding fuel to the scandal over the perceived seating snub of the European Commission president and deepening the EU-Turkey rift at the precise moment both sides were hoping for rapprochement. (Riccardo Antimiani/Pool Photo via AP)

ROME – Turkey demanded an apology Friday from Italy's premier for having called President Recep Tayyip Erdogan a “dictator,” a comment that added fuel to a dispute over a perceived seating snub involving a top European Union official.

The comment also deepened an EU-Turkey rift at a time when the two sides had hoped for a rapprochement.

Italian Premier Mario Draghi made the uncharacteristically undiplomatic comment Thursday at the end of an hour-long news conference devoted to Italy’s coronavirus pandemic response. He was asked his reaction to Erdogan’s treatment of European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, who was left without a chair during a Tuesday meeting in Ankara.

Draghi said Erdogan’s behavior was inappropriate and that he was sorry for the “humiliation” von der Leyen had suffered.

“It’s that with these — let’s call them what they are — dictators, who, however one needs ... one must be frank in expressing differences of views, opinions, behavior, of visions of society ... but also be ready to collaborate, more to cooperate, to collaborate to ensure the interests of one’s country.”

Turkey summoned Italy’s ambassador to protest, and a presidential spokesman demanded that Draghi retract his words.

“We strongly condemn this rhetoric, which has no place in diplomacy. If Mario Draghi is looking for a dictator, he should look no further than Italy’s history," Erdogan’s communications director, Fahrettin Altun, said Friday.

As of Friday evening, Draghi had not apologized publicly or issued a retraction.