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Erdogan Cancels Argentina Trip, Armenian Lobby Blamed


Turkey -- Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan arrives during a ceremony at the Constitutional Court in Ankara, 22Apr2010

Turkey -- Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan arrives during a ceremony at the Constitutional Court in Ankara, 22Apr2010

(Reuters) - Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan cancelled a trip to Argentina on Sunday after Buenos Aires authorities halted the display of a bust of Turkey's founder, a move Turkey blamed on Armenian lobbyists.

The row over the statue, due to be unveiled in a park, comes during a high-profile trip to South America by Erdogan, and underlines how Turkey's strained relations with Armenia over the mass killing of Armenians in 1915 can impede its wider international ties.

Turkey's Foreign Ministry said in a statement the two-day visit scheduled for later on Sunday had been cancelled, and it hoped Argentina would take steps to remove the shadow cast on Turkish-Argentine relations.

"The trip was cancelled because written permission for the monument given to Turkey beforehand by the... Buenos Aires district was reversed as a result of initiatives by the Armenian lobby, which is opposed to Turkey," it said.

Mustafa Kemal Ataturk founded Turkey in 1923 after the collapse of the Ottoman empire and is highly revered by Turks. Busts and statues of Ataturk stand all over the country.

Argentina's president spoke with Erdogan to explain she could not overrule the decision, yet he found this unacceptable and decided not to go, the statement added.

Hopes that an historic accord signed between Muslim Turkey and Christian Armenia last year could end a century of hostility suffered a blow last month when Yerevan said it had suspended ratification of the accord. The accord was the closest Turkey and Armenia had come to moving beyond the mass killings by Ottoman Turks in 1915 that has poisoned their relationship ever since.

Turkey accepts that many Armenians were killed but strongly denies that up to 1.5 million died and it amounted to genocide. Armenian lobby groups and the Armenian Diaspora have long pushed for a recognition of the killings as such.

Erdogan arrived in Brazil last week where he and Brazilian president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva defended their fuel swap deal with Iran, which the United States says threatens a U.N. drive to impose new sanctions. He is due to travel to Chile on Sunday.

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