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Turkish PM Against Rasmussen As NATO Chief

Turkey's Recep Tayyip Erdogan (left) has come out against the candidacy of Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen as NATO chief.
LONDON (Reuters) -- Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan has criticized Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen, increasing doubts that Ankara will back him to become NATO's next chief.

In NATO member Turkey's strongest public criticism of Rasmussen since he became frontrunner to succeed Dutch diplomat Jaap de Hoop Scheffer as the alliance's secretary-general, Erdogan said he took a "negative view" of his candidacy.

NATO leaders had been expected to choose de Hoop Scheffer's successor at a summit on April 3-4 hosted by France and Germany in Strasbourg and Baden-Baden.

But the decision could be delayed because of concerns in Turkey, which is predominantly Muslim but a secular state, about Rasmussen's handling of a row over the publication in Denmark of cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad in 2006. The cartoons caused riots in several Muslim countries.

Turkey is also unhappy that Kurdish ROJ TV is allowed to broadcast from Denmark although it has close links to Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) guerrillas who have been fighting for an ethnic homeland in Turkey since 1984.

The PKK is listed as a terrorist group in the United States and in the EU.

"I made a request to Mr. Rasmussen, that this terror group's broadcaster is broadcasting in your country. Here are the documents. But despite us asking him to stop it, he couldn't or he didn't," Erdogan told a news conference in London, where he attended the Group of 20 summit on the global economic crisis.

"We experienced a caricature crisis [in 2006 over the cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad] and we advised the prime minister to invite Muslim country ambassadors and explain the situation, discuss how to overcome this difficult situation, and he still did not respond positively."

Erdogan added, "This naturally creates a question mark for us and as a result of this question mark, personally, I take a negative view [of Rasmussen's candidacy]."

Some NATO members are asking privately whether he would be the best choice at a time when the alliance is seeking to improve its image in the Islamic world.

Other contenders for the NATO post are Norwegian Foreign Minister Jonas Gahr Stoere and former British Defense Secretary Des Browne. Polish Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski ruled himself out of the running on April 3.

Turkish President Abdullah Gul will attend the NATO summit and any decision on the NATO successor would need his approval.

U.S. President Barack Obama is due to visit Turkey next week.