‘Seatgate’ diplomatic row grows as Italy calls Erdogan a ‘dictator’

Eleanor Sly
·2-min read
<p>Mario Draghi accused Erdogan of humiliating Ursula von der Leyen</p> (AFP/Getty)

Mario Draghi accused Erdogan of humiliating Ursula von der Leyen


A diplomatic row has grown worse between Turkey and Italy after Italian prime minister, Mario Draghi, called Turkey’s president Recep Tayyip Erdogan a “dictator” and accused him of humiliating Ursula von der Leyen, the European commission president.

During a meeting on Tuesday, Ms Von der Leyen was left without a chair during a meeting involving Mr Erdogan and the European council president Charles Michel. Ms Von der Leyen is the commission’s first female president and was clearly taken aback when the two men took the only two chairs available, leaving her perched on a nearby sofa.

The scene provoked criticism from Mr Draghi who told reporters: “I absolutely do not agree with Erdogan’s behaviour towards president Von der Leyen … I think it was not appropriate behaviour and I was very sorry for the humiliation Von der Leyen had to suffer.”

He went on to call the Turkish president a “dictator,” adding: “With these, let’s call them what they are – dictators – with whom one nonetheless has to coordinate, one has to be frank when expressing different visions and opinions.”

Following the Italian PM’s remarks, the Italian ambassador to Ankara was summoned to the foreign ministry, Turkey’s Anadolu news agency reported. Meanwhile, foreign minister Mevlut Cavusoglu condemned Mr Draghi’s remarks, denouncing them as “unacceptable.”

He wrote on Twitter: “We strongly condemn the appointed Italian prime minister Draghi’s unacceptable, populist discourse and his ugly and unrestrained comments about our elected president.”

Mr Cavusoglu also said that the seating at the meeting was arranged following international protocol and that Turkey had become the subject of “unjust accusations”.

Turkey has also insisted that the EU’s own protocol requests were applied to the chairs. However, the EU Council head of protocol that his team did not have access to the room for a preparatory inspection.

Dominique Marro wrote in an EU Council note a note which was made public: “If the room for the tete-a-tete had been visited, we should have suggested to our hosts that, as a courtesy, they replace the sofa with two armchairs for the president of the commission.”

He went on to add that the incident could have occurred due to the order of protocol established by the EU treaty.

The chair incident comes just weeks after Turkey pulled out of the 2011 Istanbul convention. This convention is aimed at fighting against violence towards women, with Ms Von der Leyen calling on Mr Erdogan to reverse his decision to remove Turkey from it.

The decision was a blow to women’s rights in Turkey and sparked protests across the country, amid fears that domestic violence and the murders of women are on the rise.

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