An angry Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan heckled the head of the country’s bar association on Saturday, accusing him of rudeness for speaking too long and critically at a judicial ceremony, then stormed out of the hall.
The dramatic scene underscored how tensions remain high after bitterly contested March local polls and amid expectations Erdogan will seek the presidency in another election in August.
Erdogan interrupted a speech in Ankara by Metin Feyzioglu, chairman of the Union of Turkish Bar Associations, saying his speech was political and was full of untruths after Feyzioglu questioned the government’s handling of the aftermath of a 2011 earthquake in the southeastern province of Van.
“You are speaking falsehoods … How could there be such rudeness?” Erdogan shouted and stood up to gesticulate in anger at Feyzioglu, who was onstage at a podium and refused to stop speaking. The scene was broadcast by CNN Turk television.
Erdogan also expressed frustration that Feyzioglu, who in the past criticised the criminal prosecution of Erdogan’s political opponents, had broken protocol by speaking for an hour before leaving the ceremony in Ankara.
It was an unusual outburst even for Erdogan, Turkey’s most popular leader in a half-century, whose street-tough origins and hard talk are part of his appeal for many Turks.
Last month, the head of the Constitutional Court denounced “excessive” political criticism of his tribunal in a speech attended by Erdogan, who remained stonily silent during the ceremony. Only later did he say he was “saddened” by Chief Justice Hasim Kilic’s words.
At the 2009 World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, Erdogan left the stage after clashing with Israeli President Shimon Peres in what would augur a split between the two allied nations that persists today.
The three-time premier has yet to announce a run for the presidency, but his interest in the top job is widely accepted.
Though largely ceremonial, the presidency is still the nation’s most prestigious post and was held by modern Turkey’s founder Mustafa Kemal Ataturk.
A presidential bid would follow a difficult year for Erdogan that included the biggest anti-government protests in decades over his perceived authoritarianism and a corruption scandal that implicated family members and cabinet ministers.
Erdogan responded with a sweeping shakeup of the police and judiciary he has accused of political interference.