The president of Turkey has promised to provide a state-funded private jet for the country's top Muslim cleric, claiming that the pope travels in one and the two should be allowed comparable resources.
Speaking with national NTV television channel on Tuesday, Recep Tayyip Erdogan said that Mehmet Gormez, who heads Ankara's Religious Affairs Directorate and is the highest level Islamic authority in Turkey, deserved the same treatment as the leader of the Catholic church.
"[The pope] has a private jet, private cars and armored vehicles. That's the situation at the Vatican and our religious leader will take scheduled flights?" he asked, according to an Associated Press translation.
However, Gormez would in fact be going up on the Pope as the Vatican does not actually have a private jet as Erdogan believes. The pontiff usually flies on standard Alitalia aircraft, and if visiting a foreign country, tradition dictates that he return on a jet belonging to the destination country's national carrier.
Pope Francis hails from a long tradition of Catholic liberation theology, the Latin American movement of solidarity with the poor, and has pledged to rid himself of extravagances. On a visit to Turkey last year opted for a relatively modest Renault instead of an armored Mercedes offered by authorities. His chosen "popemobile" is a used Ford Focus.
Erdogan has pledged to give Gormez a Mercedes from his own fleet after the cleric returned a $385,000 model bought for him by the Religious Affairs Directorate amid public outcry over its cost.
The president has also frequently been criticized for his own lavish spending, including building a 1,150-room, $615 million presidential palace more than 30 times bigger than the White House in Ankara. Opponents have seized at the opportunity to criticize Erdogan and his allies on this front in the run up to next month's parliamentary elections.
Turkey's supreme court ruled on Tuesday to revoke a building permit issued for the palace because it had been illegally built on protected land — an area part of Ankara's Ataturk Forest Farm in Ankara. It is currently unclear what, if any, affect the ruling will have on the building itself.
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