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NZ minister to use Turkey visit to 'confront' Erdogan's mosque shooting comments

Turkish president said his country would make the suspected Christchurch attacker pay if New Zealand did not
Women hold a sign amid several hundred protesters gathered outside Istanbul's Hagia Sophia to denounce the deadly attacks on two mosques in New Zealand, on 16 March in Istanbul. (AFP)

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has said that Foreign Minister Winston Peters will "confront" comments made by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on the killing of at least 50 people at two mosques in Christchurch during a visit to Istanbul on Friday.

Australian Brenton Tarrant, 28, a suspected white supremacist, was charged with murder on Saturday after a lone gunman opened fire at the mosques during Friday prayers.

Erdogan, who is seeking to drum up support for his ruling AK Party in 31 March local elections, said Turkey would make the suspected attacker pay if New Zealand did not.

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The comments came at a campaign rally that included video footage of the shootings which the alleged gunman had broadcast on Facebook.

Ardern said Peters, who has been invited to an emergency meeting of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation in Istanbul, which has been convened to discuss the shootings, would seek urgent clarification over the remarks.

"Our deputy prime minister will be confronting those comments in Turkey," Ardern told reporters in Christchurch on Wednesday. "He is going there to set the record straight, face-to-face."

Peters had earlier condemned the airing of footage of the shooting, which he said were "totally unfair" and could endanger New Zealander's abroad.

Peters said he had also complained directly to visiting Turkish Vice-President Fuat Oktay and Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu.

Despite Peters' intervention, an extract from Tarrant's alleged manifesto was flashed up on a screen at Erdogan's rally again on Tuesday, along with footage of the gunman entering one of the mosques and shooting as he approached the door.

Three Turkish nationals were wounded in the Christchurch attacks. The alleged manifesto references Turkey and the minarets of Istanbul's famed Hagia Sophia, now a museum, that was once a church before becoming a mosque during the Ottoman empire.

'Sent back in caskets'

Meanwhile, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said he had summoned Turkey's ambassador for a meeting following remarks in which Erdogan referenced the 1915 Gallipoli campaign in connection with the Christchurch shootings.

In fiery remarks, Morrison condemned the comments as "reckless" and "highly offensive" and warned he would consider "all options" in reviewing ties.

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At an event in Canakkale, Erdogan warned anti-Muslim Australians would be "sent back in caskets" like their grandfathers at Gallipoli.

Without elaborating, the president also said: "This is not an isolated event, it is something more organised.

"They are testing us with the message they are sending us from New Zealand, 16,500km from here."

Gallipoli was the scene of a blood-drenched World War One battle in which Ottoman soldiers defeated British-led forces, including Australian and New Zealand troops, trying to seize the peninsula, a gateway to Istanbul.

More than 8,000 Australians died fighting Turkish forces around the seaside town, a landmark moment in Australian history.

"Remarks have been made by the Turkish President Erdogan that I consider highly offensive to Australians and highly reckless in this very sensitive environment," Morrison said after summoning the Turkish ambassador and dismissing the "excuses" offered.

"I am expecting, and I have asked, for these comments to be clarified, to be withdrawn," said Morrison, who also faces an election challenge in the coming weeks.

"I've asked for these comments, particularly their reporting of the misrepresented position of Australia on Turkish television, the state-sponsored broadcaster, to be taken down and I expect that to occur."

Betrayal of Ataturk

Morrison described claims about Australia and New Zealand's response to the white supremacist attack as "vile".

The prime minister said Australians travelling to Turkey should exercise common sense and cautioned that travel advice for Turkey was under review.

Morrison also accused Erdogan of betraying the promise of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk - the father of the modern Turkish state and a revered figure in Turkey - to forge peace between the two countries.

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A memorial at the battlefield carries Ataturk's words: "There is no difference between the Johnnies and the Mehmets... after having lost their lives on this land, they have become our sons as well."

"Ataturk sought to transform his country into a modern nation and, an embracing nation, and I think these comments are at odds with that spirit," Morrison said.

For more than a century, relations between Turkey, New Zealand and Australia have generally been good.

Thousands of Australians and New Zealanders travel each year to Turkey for war memorial services.

The Gallipoli area has become a site of pilgrimage for visitors who honour their nations' fallen in graveyards halfway around the world on ANZAC Day every 25 April.

Mainstream media in Turkey has made no mention of the criticism of Erdogan from New Zealand and Australian officials.

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