Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has been criticised after telling a girl in military uniform that she would be honoured if killed while fighting.
“If she’s martyred, they’ll lay a flag on her,” he told the sobbing girl at a televised congress of his AK Party.
His supporters cheered “Chief! Take us to Afrin!”, in reference to Turkey’s operations against Kurdish fighters in Syria’s northern Afrin region.
The speech has been described as “child abuse” and a glorification of death.
In the event, broadcast live on state television, the young girl dressed as a soldier seems to catch the attention of Mr Erdogan, who then invites her to the stage.
“Look what you see here! Girl, what are you doing here? We have our maroon berets here, but maroon berets never cry,” he told her, referring to the beret worn by the Turkish Special Operations Forces.
“She has a Turkish flag in her pocket too… If she’s martyred, they’ll lay a flag on her, God willing,” he said during the congress in the southern town of Kahramanmaras on Saturday.
“She is ready for everything, isn’t she?” The girl replied: “Yes.”
Mr Erdogan then kissed her face and let her go. The girl has not been identified and was not immediately clear why she was wearing a military uniform.
Users on Twitter have condemned Mr Erdogan’s speech, with one comparing it to “child abuse”.
Another comment read: “It’s a shame, it’s very bad. She’s just a child, you don’t wish her dead and you don’t say ‘God willing’ for that!”
He has not yet responded to the criticism.
It is not the first time that Mr Erdogan’s comments on martyrdom have caused controversy in Turkey, where every soldier or police officer killed on duty is considered a “martyr”, says BBC Turkish’s Onur Erem.
Mr Erdogan’s opponents criticise him for using the funerals of dead soldiers and children for highly politicised speeches. They also say his own sons evaded military service, but his supporters do not seem to be influenced.
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