MHP leader, mob boss express support for interior minister over refugee spat with far-right leader

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The far-right Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) leader Devlet Bahçeli and notorious Turkish mafia boss Alaattin Çakıcı, known for his ties to Bahçeli, have expressed support for Interior Minister Süleyman Soylu following a spat with the leader of an anti-refugee political party over refugees in the country, local media reported on Friday.

Bahçeli and Çakıcı especially condemned a move by Ümit Özdağ, leader of the far-right and anti-refugee Victory Party (ZP) that has been at the forefront of anti-refugee propaganda in Turkey, to call the minister for a personal meeting in an appeal resembling a challenge to single combat, which remained unanswered.

Tensions rose between Soylu and Özdağ after the minister insulted the ZP leader by describing him as “even lower than an animal” in a spat over refugees in Turkey at a time when anti-refugee sentiment has reached a boiling point in the country, fueled by economic woes facing citizens.

Defining Özdağ’s call as “a filthy ploy, an arrogant scheme, and a futile effort” in a series of tweets on Friday, Bahçeli said that everyone should know that it was “a vile conspiracy” to draw institutions that protect our national security and survival into “disgusting polemics.”

Çakıcı also released a written statement on Twitter, accusing Özdağ of acting like a “street bully” by going in front of the Interior Ministry to have a face-off with Soylu while he could’ve filed a criminal complaint about the insult.

Following Soylu’s remarks, Özdağ had said he was not going to answer Soylu’s insults with insults and would rather preserve his dignity in a face-off with him at 11:00 a.m. on Friday in front of the interior ministry building, a meeting he would attend “unarmed and alone.”

“If you are man enough, come meet me,” Özdağ said, addressing Soylu.

At the announced time Özdağ was prevented from proceeding to the front of the interior ministry by riot police who blocked the roads, citing security reasons.

“Let those who fear you be like you. You are a criminal man. When your term is over, you will be arrested,” Özdağ said to members of the press after he was denied passage to the ministry.

Attitudes about refugees fleeing the long conflict in Syria have gradually hardened in Turkey, where they used to be welcomed with open arms, sympathy and compassion, as the number of newcomers has swelled over the past decade.

Tensions between Turks and Syrians flare up on occasion in Turkey, where refugees are blamed for many of the country’s social and economic troubles.

Hate crimes against refugees and migrants have been escalating in the country in recent years as Turkish media, including pro-government and opposition outlets, fuel and exploit the flames of hatred against people who fled their countries and sought refuge in Turkey.

The Justice and Development Party (AKP) leader and President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan recently announced that his government was working on a new project to ensure the “voluntary” return home of 1 million Syrian refugees in Turkey.

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