Turkey's Erdogan in Netherlands as lesbian adoption row looms

AFP , Thursday 21 Mar 2013

Turkish PM Recep Tayyip Erdogan to meet Dutch counterpart Mark Rutte to discuss strengthening ties between the two countries

Turkey's Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan addresses the media before his flight to Denmark for an official visit at Esenboga Airport in Ankara March 19, 2013 (Photo: Reuters)

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan made a one-day visit to the Netherlands on Thursday aimed at strengthening ties; his visit however, risks being overshadowed by a row over a Turkish boy adopted by Dutch lesbians.

Erdogan is to meet Dutch counterpart Mark Rutte to discuss economic and political cooperation, but a top Dutch government official has confirmed that the squabble over custody of the nine-year-old Yunus was also on the agenda.

The issue, which threatens to overshadow a widely-anticipated historic Kurdish rebel ceasefire announcement, came to a head after reported attempts in Turkey to reunite Yunus, adopted by the lesbian couple as a baby, with his biological Turkish mother.

In a letter to the Dutch parliament on Tuesday, Foreign Minister Frans Timmermans said the cabinet planned to brief the Turkish delegation about the "pros and cons taken into consideration when a decision is made to place a child into foster care".

Timmermans stressed: "Dutch foster children of Turkish descent in the Netherlands fall under Dutch legislation.

"The Turkish government has no say over these children."

Dutch newspapers reported last week that the lesbian couple had gone into hiding because of Ankara's attempts to have Yunus returned and reported disquiet in the Turkish community.

Dutch Deputy Premier Lodewijk Asscher on Friday called any interference by a "foreign power" based on religion or sexual orientation "presumptuous," saying it did not fit into beliefs held in the Netherlands.

Turkey has embarked on a campaign to retrieve children of Turkish immigrant families living in Europe who are fostered by foreigners, and instead place them in homes where their cultural identity can be preserved.

Turkey's Islamist-rooted government fears that children placed in Christian homes will forget their roots, and also disapproves of placements with gay couples.

Yunus, who is a Dutch citizen, was adopted by the Hague-based couple when he was four months old, but his biological mother told Dutch media she wanted him back, with reports saying she enlisted Ankara's support.

Erdogan however has downplayed the issue, saying in Turkey earlier this week he was "worried that this is getting exaggerated."

"I am aware of the official comments from their (the Dutch) side but I will let Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu deal with it, with his counterpart," said Erdogan, who arrived in the Netherlands late Wednesday.

Dutch government officials also scrambled to downplay the row which threatened to overshadow other topics such as the conflict in Syria, human rights issues in Turkey and the possible ceasefire between Ankara and Kurdish rebels.

Even Yunus's biological mother joined efforts to calm the simmering row, saying Wednesday she "never had the intention of being against the adoptive parents' sexuality".

She had nevertheless previously been quoted as saying: "How would you feel if your child lived with lesbians?"

Erdogan's Dutch programme had been altered, cancelling a potentially volatile visit to the Islamic University in Rotterdam where a demonstration was planned in favour of a rather more benign call on the annual Dutch flower showpiece at Keukenhof outside The Hague, the Volkskrant newspaper reported on Wednesday.

Ahmet Dundar, the university's spokesman, confirmed to AFP that Erdogan was supposed to have visited, but they were told this week the stop had been cancelled, with no reasons given.

Dundar confirmed a demonstration against the Dutch foster care system "organised by individuals" was still planned but said it did not involve the university.

Some 1,000 pro-Turkish protesters were expected to gather at Lelystad, northeast of Amsterdam on Friday, again to protest against the foster care system, spokeswoman Liesbeth van Willegen told AFP.

In The Hague on Thursday, police were expecting some 500 anti-Erdogan demonstrators to gather including those from the pro-Israel lobby.

Diplomatic ties between the Netherlands and Turkey stretch back more than 400 years, and there are around 393,000 Dutch citizens of Turkish descent in the Netherlands.

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