French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian on Sunday accused Turkey of “trying to whip up hatred” against France, continuing a war of words over Islam between the Nato allies.
France said on Saturday that it was recalling its ambassador to Turkey after unacceptable comments by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who questioned President Emmanuel Macron’s mental health and his attitude towards Islam.
France and its Nato ally were already at odds over issues including maritime rights in the eastern Mediterranean and conflicts in Libya, Syria and, most recently, the fighting between Armenia and Azerbaijan over Nagorno-Karabakh.
The two sides have now fallen out over domestic policies, and Mr Le Drian described the “insults” against Mr Macron as “unacceptable conduct” from an ally.
Turkey’s “hateful, slanderous propaganda against France” revealed a desire to “whip up hate against us and in our midst,” he added.
Ankara is angered by a campaign championed by Mr Macron to protect France’s secular values against Islamist extremism, a campaign given impetus by the murder of a schoolteacher who showed his class cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed.
Mr Macron hailed the teacher, Samuel Paty, as a “silent hero” who upheld France’s secular values. The French president vowed that the country would “not give up our cartoons,” which incensed his Turkish counterpart.
The EU’s senior diplomat, Josep Borrell, joined the fray on Sunday to criticise Mr Erdogan’s comments. “The remarks by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan regarding President Emmanuel Macron are unacceptable,” Mr Borrell tweeted in French. “Call to Turkey to cease this dangerous spiral of confrontation.”
A French presidential official said on Saturday that “excess and rudeness” was not a method to employ in international relations.
“President Erdogan’s comments are unacceptable” the official told AFP. “We demand that Erdogan change the course of his policy because it is dangerous in every respect.”
In an unusual move, the official said the French ambassador to Turkey was being recalled for consultations and would meet Mr Macron to discuss the situation.
The Elysee official, who asked not to be named, also said France had noted “the absence of messages of condolence and support” from the Turkish president after the beheading of Mr Paty near Paris on October 16. Mr Le Drian repeated the complaint on Sunday.
Mr Erdogan criticised Mr Macron over his policies towards France’s large Muslim minority, saying that he needed “mental checks”.
“What’s the problem of the individual called Macron with Islam and with the Muslims?” Mr Erdogan asked.
“Macron needs mental treatment,” he said.
He indicated he did not expect Mr Macron to win a new mandate in the 2022 elections.
Mr Erdogan has frequently taken aim at Mr Macron, referring to him as “brain dead” last year after the French leader used the term to describe the state of Nato.
The Elysee official said Mr Erdogan had two months to reply to the demands for a change in stance, and that it end its “dangerous adventures” in the eastern Mediterranean and “irresponsible conduct” over Nagorno-Karabakh, where Ankara is backing Azerbaijan.
“Measures need to be taken by the end of the year,” the official said.
Turkey showed little sign of backing down on Sunday, with a senior official claiming that offensive caricatures were being used to intimidate Muslims under the guise of freedom of expression.
European attitudes demonising Muslims were reminiscent of how the Jews in Europe were treated in the 1920s, said Fahrettin Altun, communications director at the Turkish presidency.
The latest dispute has sparked renewed debates online over boycotting Turkish products and France’s counter-extremism policy.
Several Saudi firms have announced that they will no longer stock Turkish produce.
Hassan Sajwani, a UAE Twitter personality, said that he was sorry that a potential boycott could gather steam and that Turks would again be affected by their president’s actions.
Others defended Islam, using a hashtag Our Prophet is a Red Line and criticising France for allowing the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo to run cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed.