Ozil defends controversial picture with Erdogan

In this handout picture taken on May 13, 2018 and released on May 14, 2018 by the Turkish Presidential Press office Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan (R) poses for a photo with German footballers of Turkish origin Ilkay Gundogan (L) and Mesut Ozil (2nd L) in London. (AFP)
Updated 22 July 2018
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Ozil defends controversial picture with Erdogan

  • Ozil said he was loyal to both his Turkish and German origins
  • He insisted he did not intend to make a political statement

BERLIN: Footballer Mesut Ozil said Sunday he had no regrets about his controversial photograph with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan that sparked questions about his loyalty to Germany’s national squad ahead of the World Cup.
Breaking his silence over the snapshot that caused outrage during the tournament, the Arsenal midfielder said in a statement on Twitter that he was loyal to both his Turkish and German origins and insisted he did not intend to make a political statement.
“Like many people, my ancestry traces back to more than one country. Whilst I grew up in Germany, my family background has its roots firmly based in Turkey,” he said.
“I have two hearts, one German and one Turkish.”
Ozil said he had first met Erdogan in 2010 after the president and German Chancellor Angela Merkel watched a Germany-Turkey match together.
“Since then, our paths have crossed a lot of times around the globe,” he said.
“I’m aware that the picture of us caused a huge response in the German media, and whilst some people may accuse me of lying or being deceitful, the picture we took had no political intentions.”
Ozil said despite the timing of the picture with teammate Ilkay Gundogan and Erdogan — shortly before the president won re-election in a poll endowing him with sweeping new powers — “it wasn’t about politics or elections, it was about me respecting the highest office of my family’s country.”
“My job is a football player and not a politician, and our meeting was not an endorsement of any policies,” Ozil said.
“I get that this may be hard to understand, as in most cultures the political leader cannot be thought of as being separate from the person. But in this case it is different. Whatever the outcome would’ve been in this previous election, or the election before that, I would have still taken the picture.”
Ozil, 29, came in for stinging criticism in Germany for their shock first-round defeat at the World Cup.
Team boss Oliver Bierhoff suggested after the debacle that Germany should have considered dropping Ozil after his failure to explain himself over the Erdogan picture.
Bierhoff later backtracked, saying that he “was wrong” to put Ozil under undue pressure, but the picture continued to draw scorn from fans on social media.
Germany is home to more than three million people of Turkish origin.


Michael Jackson fans defiant as abuse claims loom over anniversary

Updated 24 June 2019
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Michael Jackson fans defiant as abuse claims loom over anniversary

  • Fans were aware of the sex abuse claims, but the adoration fostered from growing up with the “Thriller” megastar’s many hits supersedes all else
  • If the controversy has dampened commemorations, Jackson’s commercial clout remains substantial

LOS ANGELES: Defiant fans are preparing to mark 10 years since Michael Jackson’s death as fascination with the King of Pop remains undimmed despite lurid claims of child sex abuse.
On Hollywood’s Walk of Fame, the singer’s star continues to draw a constant scrum of selfie-snapping tourists, while nearby souvenir shops, street performers and even tattoo parlors report a brisk trade in all things Jackson.
Across the street at Ripley’s Believe It Or Not museum, a statue of the singer is strategically perched above the box office to entice tourists. Staff at Madame Tussauds say Jackson’s waxwork remains a top draw.
Yet according to the groundbreaking HBO documentary “Leaving Neverland,” released earlier this year, it was just a few hours’ drive from the heart of Hollywood that Jackson used his celebrity and glamor to molest young boys at his fairytale-themed ranch.
While most fans who spoke to AFP were aware of the documentary, the adoration fostered from growing up with the “Thriller” megastar’s many hits supersedes all else.
“I came here actually only for him. I don’t take pictures with any other star,” said Dutch tourist Hooman Nazemi.
“Some stuff that they were saying in the doc was kind of hard, but you cannot say 100 percent it’s true ... I just love him. I love him and I think everybody does.”
Antoine Baynes, 31, a Jackson impersonator who moonwalks along Hollywood Boulevard for tourists’ tips, said the allegations had done nothing to diminish his performances’ appeal — in fact, the opposite.
“After the HBO special came out I received just as much if not more attention than before. It kinda gave it publicity,” he said.
“Honestly I’ve married people as Michael Jackson. I have two weddings to do this Sunday, to do as Michael Jackson!“
The claims in the HBO documentary by two men who say Jackson sexually abused them for years as minors were not the first, but reignited the scandal after the star’s fatal overdose at age 50 in 2009.
In his lifetime, Jackson denied all child sex allegations and his estate filed a $100 million lawsuit against HBO for “posthumous character assassination.”
On Tuesday, the anniversary of Jackson’s passing, die-hard fans from around the world have planned an “MJ Innocent Love Rally” through Hollywood to gather at his star on the sidewalk.
Other events include a “zombie dance” on Venice Beach and screenings of fan-made tribute films.
Those who cannot attend are invited to donate money for an annual ceremony placing roses by Jackson’s grave in the nearby Forest Lawn cemetery.
Organizers did not respond to a request for comment, but claim on Twitter that a record of more than 18,000 roses have been bought this year.
Yet numbers signing up to the events’ Facebook pages are conspicuously low, and pro-Jackson messageboards are rife with complaints about the lack of mainstream enthusiasm for anniversary events this year.
If the controversy has dampened commemorations — with Variety reporting that TV networks and producers have pulled the plug on long-planned anniversary programs — Jackson’s commercial clout remains substantial.
T-shirts, keyrings and coasters bearing the singer’s likeness remain on prominent display at Hollywood tourist stores lining the boulevard, outnumbered only by images of Elvis Presley and Marilyn Monroe.
Of a dozen such shops visited by AFP, only one had removed Jackson memorabilia from its shelves, citing a decline in interest.
And for some die-hard fans, a throwaway souvenir just won’t cut it.
“We get people asking for the silhouette, with the hat, sometimes his signature,” said tattoo artist John Lopez.
“Maybe five or six each year. It’s no different this year.”