ROME: Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi on Thursday described Turkish President Recep Tayyib Erdogan as a dictator, in remarks that risk further souring EU-Turkey ties.
He was speaking at a news conference after being asked about a diplomatic row over seating arrangements during a meeting between Erdogan and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen on Tuesday.
“I am very sorry for the humiliation that the president of the commission had to suffer with these, let’s call them for what they are, dictators, but with whom we need to cooperate,” Draghi told reporters.
The Turkish leader came under a torrent of criticism after images went viral of von der Leyen being left without a seat during their meeting in Ankara, which also included European Council President Charles Michel.
Official images later showed her seated on a sofa opposite Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu.
The Italian ambassador to Ankara was summoned to the foreign ministry over Draghi’s comments, Turkey’s state-owned Anadolu news agency reported, and Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu slammed the remarks.
“We strongly condemn the appointed Italian Prime Minister Draghi’s unacceptable, populist discourse and his ugly and unrestrained comments about our elected president,” Cavusoglu wrote on Twitter.
Earlier on Thursday, Cavusoglu said that the seating at the meeting was arranged in line with the bloc’s demands and international protocol and that Turkey was being subject to “unjust accusations”.
Turkey and the EU blamed each other for the arrangements during the meeting, which was meant to set a more positive tone in relations after months of spats.
Several European Parliament groups demanded an investigation into how von der Leyen was left standing while Michel took a seat.