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Erdogan campaign’s use of New Zealand mosque shooter video draws rebuke

Senior New Zealand official protests politicization of the massacre after Turkey’s president showed footage at rallies; 3 Turkish citizens were wounded

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan sings his election song before delivering a speech at an election rally in Istanbul's Kasimpasa district, on March 5, 2019 (Ozan KOSE / AFP)
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan sings his election song before delivering a speech at an election rally in Istanbul's Kasimpasa district, on March 5, 2019 (Ozan KOSE / AFP)

ISTANBUL, Turkey — Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan drew a sharp rebuke from New Zealand Monday for using controversial video shot by the Christchurch mosque gunman as an election campaign prop.

Erdogan, campaigning for local elections this month, has presented the attack as part of an assault on Turkey and Islam more broadly and projected the video of the killings at his rallies over the weekend.

Deputy Prime Minister Winston Peters protested on Monday that such politicization of the massacre “imperils the future and safety of the New Zealand people and our people abroad, and it’s totally unfair.”

Peters announced on Tuesday that he would be traveling to Turkey this week at Istanbul’s request to attend a special meeting of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation.

Winston Peters, leader of the New Zealand First party, speaks to the media outside Bowen House in Wellington on October 19, 2017. (AFP PHOTO / Marty MELVILLE)

Three Turkish nationals were wounded in the rampage, that killed 50 worshipers at two mosques in the southern New Zealand city of Christchurch on Friday.

The accused gunman, a self-avowed white supremacist from Australia, livestreamed video of much of the attack and spread a 72-page manifesto on social media claiming it was a strike against Muslim “invaders.”

The manifesto references Turkey and the minarets of Istanbul’s famed Hagia Sophia, now a museum, that was once a church before becoming a mosque during the Ottoman empire.

New Zealand authorities moved quickly to try and stop the spread of the shooter’s video, warning that anyone sharing the footage faced prosecution, and Facebook removed the images from hundreds of thousands of its pages.

People gather in front of floral tributes at a makeshift memorial for victims of the March 15 mosque attacks, in Christchurch, New Zealand, on March 17, 2019. (Tessa BURROWS / AFP)

But at weekend campaign events, Erdogan projected the video and repeatedly referenced the attack, which he portrayed as a sign of rising Islamophobia that the West has ignored.

“This is not an isolated event, it is something more organised,” he said during a campaign event on Monday in Canakkale in western Turkey.

“They are testing us with the message they are sending us from New Zealand, 16,500 km (10,250 miles) from here.”

Erdogan did not project the video at the Monday event.

Turkish President and leader of Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development (AK) Party Recep Tayyip Erdogan throws bags of tea to his supporters during his party’s campaign rally in Yenimahalle district of Ankara, Turkey on March 14, 2019 (ALTAN / AFP)

Peters said he had complained directly to visiting Turkish Vice-President Fuat Oktay and Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu.

“We made it very clear that we oppose terrorism in whatever shape and form it might be and that we are for a free and open society,” Peters said he told the Turkish officials.

“We had a long dialogue on the need for any other country, or Turkey for that matter, to ensure that our country, New Zealand, was not misrepresented,” he told a press conference.

“We did not start or bring about this disaster and they clearly understood that,” he said.

Speaking Tuesday of the upcoming OIC meeting in Istanbul, Peters said: “This important event will allow New Zealand to join with our partners in standing against terrorism and speaking up for values such as understanding and religious tolerance.”

“We are very clear that the terrorist attack in Christchurch, committed by a person who is not a New Zealander, is utterly contrary to our core beliefs,” he said.

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