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Turks Protest Destruction of Castle in Mecca

January 13, 2002|From Associated Press

ANKARA, Turkey — About 300 Turks burned pictures of the Saudi king Saturday to protest the destruction of an Ottoman-era castle in the Muslim holy city of Mecca.

The demonstration outside the Saudi Embassy signaled a rise in tensions between the two Muslim countries, both U.S. allies.

The 200-year-old Al Ajyad Castle was destroyed a few weeks ago to allow for construction of a trade center and hotel to accommodate pilgrims to Mecca.

Saudi officials have defended the destruction as a matter of national sovereignty.

But Turkey, which emerged from the ashes of the Ottoman Empire, has compared it to the Taliban's destruction last year of ancient Buddha statues in Afghanistan and said it would lodge a protest with UNESCO, the United Nations agency responsible for the preservation of cultural heritage.

"We will make them pay the price for Al Ajyad," the protesters chanted. They set fire to three pictures of King Fahd, one labeling him as an "infidel" and another depicting the monarch as a demon.

The protesters also carried banners that read: "Osama bin Laden equals King Fahd," and "Down With Saudi Dictatorship."

Travel agents in Turkey said Saturday that they would protest Saudi Arabia's "cultural massacre" at international fairs.

Turkey's relations with Saudi Arabia have been uneasy. Predominantly Muslim Turkey has strict secular laws that separate religion from the state, and Turkish leaders have criticized Saudi Arabia's strict Islamic laws.

In Saudi Arabia, a government-controlled newspaper Saturday criticized what it called Turkey's ambivalent attitude toward Muslims and its ties to Israel.

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