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Turkey PM sparks row over Armenia friendship art

Erdogan orders demolition of friendship monument

Turkey's Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has ordered the destruction of a monument to friendship with neighbor Armenia, sparking controversy, media reports said Monday.

On a visit to the town of Kars in eastern Turkey on Sunday, Erdogan told the town's mayor, a member of his ruling Justice and Development Party to demolish the "monstrosity" and replace it with a park, according to news reports.

He said the work was out of place in a region known for the beauty of its centuries old Islamic-inspired monuments.

The 30-metre (100-foot) unfinished concrete statue, depicting two figures emerging from one human shape, was commissioned in 2006 to place emphasis on friendship between the two neighbors with a history of enmity and suspicion.

Opponents of Erdogan's Islamic rooted government were critical of his comments, with former culture minister Ercan Karakas saying they were a "shame", adding "the sculpture is neither strange nor ugly".

The memorial is by Turkish sculptor Mehmet Aksoy, who defended his work, saying on NTV television its destruction would recall the demolition by the Taliban of ancient Buddhist statues in Afghanistan's Bamiyan valley in 2001 that stunned the world.

Armenia and Turkey signed accords in 2009 on improving bilateral ties but have so far been unable to come to terms with genocide allegations by Armenians who say up to 1.5 million of their kin perished in deportations and orchestrated killings under the Ottoman Empire during World War I.

Turkey rejects the "genocide" label, countering that 300,000 to 500,000 Armenians and at least as many Turks perished in civil strife when Armenians rose up against their Ottoman rulers and sided with Russian forces invading the crumbling empire.