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After his dramatic walk-out at the Davos World Economic Forum, as reported Thursday by GlobalPost's Turkey correspondent Nichole Sobecki, Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan has returned to Istanbul to a hero's welcome.
Erdogan, on-stage at Davos with Israeli President Shimon Peres, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon and Arab League chief Amr Moussa during a heated debate over the recent conflict in Gaza, had accused Israel of "knowing very well how to kill" during a heated debate.
The outburst was in response to Peres's defense of his country's offensive in Gaza. With a raised voice and pointed finger, he had questioned what Erdogan would do if rockets were fired at Istanbul every night.
"When it comes to killing, you know very well how to kill," Erdogan responded.
Turkey, a predominantly Muslim but secular country that historically has had good ties with Israel and the Arab world, sought a role in brokering an end to the Gaza conflict by lobbying the Islamist Hamas group to declare a cease-fire. But Turkey's relationships with its neighbors have been complicated by the Gaza conflict, and more broadly by its own inner struggles to reconcile its identities as both a predominantly Muslim population and an avowedly secular nation. This has also colored its recent dealings with Western nations, notably the United States, whose presence in Iraq and cooperation in fighting the PKK are issues of vital importance to Turks.
Its hoped-for accession to the European Union as a member state has likewise recently thrust Ankara — and Erdogan, particularly — into the spotlight, particularly with regard to Turkey's economic, political and religious compatibility with the 27-member bloc.
So it looks like Erdogan — who political opponents charge is, along with his Islamist-rooted AK Party, a threat to Turkey's secular traditions — ends the week on a high note, at home anyway.
On Friday, thousands of people gathered at Istanbul's Ataturk airport to greet Erdogan when he returned from Davos, waving Turkish and Palestinian flags and chanting "Turkey is proud of you."
"Our people would have expected the same reaction from any Turkish prime minister," he told a news conference at Ataturk airport, according to Reuters.
"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 in particular the honor of my country," he said.
Erdogan said Turkey's reproaches were not against the Israeli people or Jews but against the Israeli administration.