Erdogan calls Özil, praises exit from German team


President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Tuesday said he had backed Mesut Özil's decision to quit the German national team on racism grounds in a telephone call with the Turkish-origin football star, wading into a controversy that caused uproar in Germany.

Özil stunned football at the weekend by announcing he planned never to play again for the national team after criticism he deemed to be racist of a meeting with Erdogan two months ago.

His move has divided opinion in Germany but received warm applause in Turkey, whose government has long campaigned against what Ankara sees as rising Islamophobia in Europe.

"Last night I spoke to Mesut. His attitude in the statement is completely patriotic, it is absolutely praiseworthy behaviour," Erdogan said, quoted by state news agency Anadolu.

"I kiss him on his eyes," Erdogan said, using a Turkish term of affection for a loved one or friend.

"It is not possible to accept this kind of racist, Islamophobic attitude towards a young man who gave and added so much to the success of the German national team. This really cannot be accepted," he added.

"How will you explain this understanding which will not accept me taking photographs with Turkish-origin Mesut, Ilkay and Cenk Tosun in London? It is intolerable," said Erdogan.

In Özil's ancestral home town of Devrek in the Zonguldak region on the Turkish Black Sea coast, local authorities have changed a giant picture on "Mesut Özil Avenue" to show the photograph with Erdogan rather than Özil in his German kit.

"We are against racism, religious discrimination and we condemn those who act in this way," mayor Mustafa Semerci said, according to DHA news agency.

"Dear Mesut, you are not alone. Devrek, Turkey and even the world is with you," he added.

Justice Minister Abdulhamit Gul on Monday congratulated Özil, saying he had "scored the most beautiful goal against the virus of fascism."

The Turkish Football Federation, whose chief Yildirim Demiroren is a close Erdogan ally, on Tuesday said it condemned Özil's treatment.

"Every player, no matter whether they are in the public eye or not, has a right to be protected from abuse, discrimination and messages expressing hate." (AFP)

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