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Turkey freezes helicopter deal with Italy over accusation of dictatorship

Mario Draghi, Italy's prime minister, speaks during a news conference in Rome, Italy, on Thursday, April 8, 2021 [Alessia Pierdomenico/Bloomberg via Getty Images]
Mario Draghi, Italy's prime minister, speaks during a news conference in Rome, Italy, on Thursday, April 8, 2021 [Alessia Pierdomenico/Bloomberg via Getty Images]

Turkey has frozen a lucrative deal to buy €70 million ($83 million) of helicopters from Italy after the Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi called Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan a "dictator" last Thursday, according to reports by Italian newspapers yesterday.

During a visit by top EU officials to the Turkish capital Ankara last week, the European Council President Charles Michel and Erdogan sat down in gilded chairs while the European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen was left confused with no chair available to her and was placed on the sofa beside them.

Sitting opposite Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu, the seating layout was harshly criticised by many in the international community as being misogynistic, with the blame being laid on Turkey as the host.

Despite Turkey afterwards clarifying that European Council President Michel and the EU's team were the ones who had communicated the seating arrangements to Turkish authorities prior to the visit – which some interpret as a power play between European leaders – Italian Prime Minister Draghi at a press conference said he "felt sorry for the humiliation" of von der Leyen and accused Erdogan of being a "dictator" engaging in "inappropriate behaviour."

Following those accusations, Cavusoglu condemned "the unacceptable populist rhetoric of the appointed Italian Prime Minister Draghi and his ugly and unrelenting statements about our elected president," with the Turkish government summoning the Italian ambassador for a dressing down and demanding an apology from Rome.

READ: Turkey, Italy will strengthen ties to defend Mediterranean rights, says former admiral

There was no response from the Italian government, however, prompting Turkey to freeze the significant deal for purchasing training helicopters from Italy which was to be signed this week, according to the newspapers La Repubblica and Il Fatto Quotidiano.

Furthermore, the Turkish government has reportedly issued warning notices to a number of Italian companies operating within Turkey, such as the energy company Ansaldo Energia which builds power plants in the country.

This recent dispute between Ankara and Rome comes at a time when the two have increased political and economic cooperation in the region over the past few years, as was shown by the announcement in February that almost $1 billion of direct investment had flown into Turkey from Italy last year.

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