ROME (Reuters) – Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi on Thursday accused Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan of humiliating European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen this week and said it is important to be frank with “dictators”, drawing condemnation from Ankara.
Von der Leyen and European Council President Charles Michel met Erdogan in Ankara on Tuesday. The Commission chief was clearly taken aback when the two men sat on the only two chairs prepared, relegating her to an adjacent sofa.
“I absolutely do not agree with Erdogan’s behavior towards President von der Leyen. … I think it was not appropriate behavior and I was very sorry for the humiliation von der Leyen had to suffer,” Draghi told reporters.
“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,” he added.
The Italian ambassador to Ankara was summoned to the foreign ministry over Draghi’s comments, Turkey’s state-owned Anadolu news agency reported, and Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu slammed the remarks.
“We strongly condemn the appointed Italian Prime Minister Draghi’s unacceptable, populist discourse and his ugly and unrestrained comments about our elected president,” Cavusoglu wrote on Twitter.
Earlier on Thursday, Cavusoglu said that the seating at the meeting was arranged in line with the bloc’s demands and international protocol and that Turkey was being subject to “unjust accusations”.
(Reporting by Angelo Amante, Gavin Jones and Daren Butler in Istanbul; Editing by Crispian Balmer and Will Dunham)