SYDNEY • New Zealand's Foreign Minister has flown to Turkey to "set the record straight" after President Recep Tayyip Erdogan repeatedly used footage from last week's massacre at two Christchurch mosques in election rallies to paint the mass shooting as an assault on Turkey and Islam.
Mr Erdogan addressed the suspect directly: "You will pay for this. If New Zealand does not hold you to account, then we'll hold you accountable one way or another."
Mr Erdogan had also warned that anti-Muslim Australians - like the suspected gunman - would be "sent back in coffins" like their grandfathers at Gallipoli, the scene of a blood-drenched World War I battle.
At a press conference yesterday, New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said that Mr Winston Peters, who is also Deputy Prime Minister, left for Turkey on Tuesday.
Asked if she was offended that the attacks were being used as a political platform in Turkey, Ms Ardern said: "I reject the idea that we are losing that relationship (with Turkey) or will lose that relationship."
She added that Mr Peters would confront the Turkish leader's comments face to face.
His visit is meant to ensure that "what is reflected is an accurate portrayal of New Zealand and New Zealanders, of our Muslim community as well", and to make it very clear New Zealand's response to the attacks, Ms Ardern said.
Meanwhile, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison condemned the "reckless" and "highly offensive" comments made by Mr Erdogan, warning that he would consider "all options" in reviewing ties.
He added that he summoned Turkey's ambassador for a meeting, during which he demanded that Mr Erdogan's comments be removed from Turkey's state broadcaster.
"I will wait to see what the response is from the Turkish government before taking further action, but I can tell you that all options are on the table," said Mr Morrison.
Mr Erdogan, 65, has been holding multiple rallies for his Islamist-rooted AK Party as opinion polls show its support waning in the country's two biggest cities, Ankara and Istanbul, ahead of local elections on March 31.
DPA, REUTERS, BLOOMBERG