Australian PM denounces Turkish president for saying anyone who came to Gallipoli with anti-Muslim sentiments would be sent back in coffins.
The Australian prime minister has reacted furiously to comments by the Turkish president, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, invoking Gallipoli to denounce anti-Islamic sentiment, warning that “all options are on the table” due to the offensive remarks.
Scott Morrison said Australia will review its travel advisory for Turkey, a threat that could see Australians directed not to travel to Turkey for Anzac Day commemorations at Gallipoli, attended by thousands every year on 25 April.
In inflammatory comments on Monday, Erdoğan suggested that anyone who comes to Turkey with anti-Muslim sentiments would be sent back in coffins, “like their grandfathers were” during the Gallipoli campaign.
Morrison summoned the Turkish ambassador on Wednesday then called a press conference to announce he does not “accept the excuses that have been offered” for the comments, that they were said “in the heat of the moment … in an electoral context”.
Morrison labelled the comments “highly offensive … and highly reckless in this very sensitive environment”, adding that they “insult the memory of the Anzacs” and “violate the pledge that is etched in the stone at Gallipoli” by the founder of modern Turkey, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk.
That was a reference to an inscription at Anzac Cove in Gallipoli, attributed to Atatürk, that soldiers buried there are “lying in the soil of a friendly country” and “after having lost their lives on this land they have become our sons as well”.
Morrison called for the comments to be withdrawn and warned “all options are on the table” to force a backdown, although his intention is to “de-escalate” the war of words.
Morrison noted that the Australian and New Zealand governments had both denounced “extremist rightwing terrorism” and offered support to their Muslim communities in the wake of the Christchurch attack.
“The responsibility in these situations, of all leaders, is to take the temperature down, and I don’t seek to escalate that in the response I’m giving to today,” he said earlier on ABC News Breakfast.
The Australian opposition leader, Bill Shorten, said the comments were “foolish and offensive”, noting they come “at a time when New Zealanders are mourning”.
“Intemperate and regrettable remarks like this only play into the hands of those who seek to divide,” he said in a statement. “They do not protect the peace and security of any nation.”
The Nationals MP George Christensen went further, accusing Erdoğan of “insulting the Anzacs” and “[threatening] to send Australian and New Zealander visitors to Turkey home ‘in caskets’”.
Christensen is an influential conservative backbencher who has come under fire for mis-attributing acts of violence to radical Islamist terrorism.
“The Turkish President has moved that secular state more and more towards radical Islam,” Christensen said on Facebook.
Shorten noted that many thousands of Australians and New Zealanders will soon visit Turkey for Anzac day on 25 April to “commemorate the shared sacrifice of our two nations at Gallipoli, and 100 years of friendship since”.
Erdoğan made the comments in Turkey’s north-western Çanakkale province, which is home to the historic battlefields, on the anniversary of a first world war Turkish naval victory. He criticised New Zealand and Australia for sending troops to Turkey in the first world war Gallipoli campaign, claiming their motive was anti-Islam-oriented.
He called on New Zealand to amend its laws to ensure that the attacker is severely punished.
Ignoring widespread criticism, Erdoğan again showed excerpts of a video taken by the attacker who killed 50 people in mosques in New Zealand, to denounce what he called rising hatred and prejudice against Islam.
“What business did you have here? We had no issues with you, why did you come all the way over here?” Erdoğan said. “The only reason: we’re Muslim, and they’re Christian.”
Erdoğan told supporters: “If New Zealand fails to hold the attacker accountable, one way or another we will hold him to account.”
The New Zealand police commissioner, Mike Bush, told reporters in Christchurch earlier that he was aware of comments made by Erdoğan blaming New Zealand for the anti-Muslim attack and was “alert” to the risk of reprisals.
“We are taking care to be alert to all kinds of conversations and that will inform our deployment,” Bush said.
“What I can say at the moment most positively is there was only one attacker. The investigation focus is to work out if anyone else was involved in supporting or in any other way and we are still conducting that part of the investigation.”
Since the weekend, the Turkish leader has been using clips of the Christchurch attack to denounce Islamophobia during campaign rallies, as he tries to stoke nationalist and religious sentiments ahead of 31 March local elections.
The video, which was blurred but had clear sounds of automatic gunfire, has been shown to thousands of people at the rallies and aired live on Turkish television, despite efforts by New Zealand to halt its spread.
The video prompted widespread condemnation. Facebook said it removed 1.5m versions of the video in the first 24 hours after the attack.
Turkey’s main opposition party has also criticised Erdoğan for showing the clip “for the sake of [winning] three or five votes” at the elections.
The New Zealand foreign minister, Winston Peters, said on Monday that he told his Turkish counterpart the video doesn’t represent New Zealand. Peters is due in Turkey later this week to attend a meeting of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation in Istanbul as an observer.
The New Zealand embassy in Ankara also said Peters had raised the issue with a Turkish delegation in New Zealand. It said the embassy in Ankara and as well as other embassies worldwide had requested that media outlets not show the footage.
Hundreds of New Zealanders and Australians travel to Çanakkale each year for Anzac Day on 25 April, to mark the start of the Gallipoli campaign and commemorate the dead.