ISTANBUL (AFP) - A billboard at Istanbul's international airport accused Sweden of having the highest rate of rape worldwide, AFP pictures showed on Friday (Aug 19), just days after Stockholm accused Ankara of legalising sex with children.
Printed in English and Turkish and displayed at the international departures section of Ataturk airport, the huge banner ad reads: "Travel Warning! Did you know that Sweden has the highest rape rate worldwide?"
Alongside it was an enlarged copy of the front page of pro-government newspaper Gunes with a headline declaring, "Sweden, a country of rape", according to AFP pictures.
A Turkish official, who declined to be named, said: "It's an ad for Gunes newspaper and not an official notice."
State-run news agency Anadolu said billboard advertisements at the airport were operated by a private company.
The advert was largely seen as a tit-for-tat move after Swedish Foreign Minister Margot Wallstrom caused a storm through a tweet saying the "Turkish decision to allow sex with children under 15 must be reversed", following a controversial ruling by the Turkish constitutional court.
Her Turkish counterpart Mevlut Cavusoglu blasted her remark as "unacceptable", saying Wallstrom should have acted "responsibly" while Sweden's charge d'affaires was summoned to the foreign ministry.
The airport ad sparked a storm on social media, with several users hitting back at the "propaganda against Sweden" while others agreed with it.
One Twitter handle @Asb Ogrenci wrote, "Sweden, a country of rape #DontTravelToSweden" while another, @ceeean, said: "There are much more cases of rape in (Turkey) than Sweden."
In response, the Swedish embassy in Turkey posted a statement on its website titled: "Misconceptions on rape statistics."
It said that comparing reports of rape in Sweden with reports in other countries with different legal and statistical systems "does not describe reality correctly".
The embassy said Sweden has a broad judicial definition of acts that are considered as rape, and uses a broad definition when calculating crime statistics.
"Every single offence is for example recorded separately and all reported events are counted as crimes, even if some of them later are found not to have constituted criminal offences," it added.
The controversy with Stockholm erupted earlier this week after Turkey's top constitutional court in July annulled a criminal code provision punishing as "sexual abuse" all sexual acts involving children under the age of 15, responding to a petition brought by a lower court.
The top court has given parliament a six-month period to draw up new rules based on its ruling.
The lower court that brought the petition was worried there was no distinction between cases of sexual acts involving a young teenager or a toddler.
The legal age of consent in Turkey remains 18 and was not affected by the ruling. But it sparked outrage among activists worried it would open the way for unpunished child sexual abuse.
In a similar spat with Austria over a news ticker at Vienna airport about the age of consent controversy, Ankara also summoned the Austrian charge d'affaires at the weekend.
The news ticker - supplied by mass-circulation daily Kronen-Zeitung - said in German: "Turkey allows sex with children under 15."