11/25/2010, 00.00
LEBANON – TURKEY
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Erdogan in Beirut, a mediator on a Neo-Ottoman quest

Local politicians and public opinion praise the Turkish prime minister, who stressed historic ties between the two countries and his desire to do “everything” to preserve Lebanon’s unity and peace. For Erdogan, Beirut is an important step to reassert Turkey’s role in the region.

Beirut (AsiaNews) – Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erodgan, on the second day of his visit to Lebanon, was showered with praise from local government and opposition political leaders alike. In their coverage, Lebanese papers focused on the statements he made on the eve of his visit, in which he paid tribute to the historic friendship between Turks and Lebanese, and said that Turkey would do everything in its power to prevent civil war in Lebanon. Ordinary people liked what he says, except for the country’s 150,000 Armenians who staged a demonstration under tight control, demanding the Turks acknowledge the genocide they inflicted on their people.

Armenians aside, even the widespread praise for the Turkish leader must be nuanced. For Lebanon’s chief Sunni leader, Mufti Mohammad Rachid Kabbani, the visit “offers hope, favours security in the country and boosts national harmony”.

For Simon Haddad, political analyst at the American University in Beirut, Erdoğan’s trip was a show of “support for al-Hariri and his politics”; more importantly, “Turkey can pressure Syria and Iran in order to tone down the Hezbollah rhetoric”.

By contrast, lawmaker Talal Arslan (a member of the 8 March movement), the visit by the Turkish leader “completes the one recently made by Iranian President Ahmadinejad.” The two “are a message to Israel, strengthen the Turkish, Syrian and Iranian triangle” and will bring changes to the region.

Erdogan’s trip is part of Turkey’s broader Neo-Ottoman approach to the region, intended to give Ankara a greater role to play in the Middle East and the Islamic world, whilst not steering too far away from the West.

Rapprochement with Iran and Syria and cooler ties with Israel are part of this strategy. Erdogan himself said that he spoke with the Syrian president before his trip to Beirut, and that he would contact him again once it is over.

Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri said today that Turkey has become a regional power with global weight in various fields.

In view of this, the Turkish leader met all major Lebanese political leaders, beginning with (Christian) President Michel Suleiman, (Sunni) Prime Minister Saad Hariri and (Shia) Parliamentary Speaker Nebih Berri.

Erdogan also addressed Lebanon’s dominant political issue, namely possible indictments in connection with the Rafik Hariri murder by the United Nations-backed Special Tribunal for Lebanon. A recent well-publicised report by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation suggested that important Hizbollah officials are likely to be indicted.

The self-styled Party of God has reacted vehemently to the rumours, calling for a boycott of the tribunal, even threatening to cut off the fingers of anyone who dared touch one of its members. It also threatened to quit the national unity government.

The matter is viewed with great concern in Israel, where a cabinet meeting is said to have discussed the possibility of a Hizbollah coup or an attempt by the Shia party to cause a conflict to divert attention from the indictments.

For his part, Erdogan stressed the importance of stabilising the Lebanese situation, but also reiterated that the UN-backed tribunal was established under UN Security Council resolutions and "nobody can change that”. (PD)

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