Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has said he hopes France will "get rid" of his counterpart Emmanuel Macron as soon as possible, in the latest salvo in an escalating war of words between the two leaders. Erdogan's increasingly populist rhetoric goes along with a gradual decline in his popularity at home.
"Macron is trouble for France. With him, France is passing through a very, very dangerous period. I hope that France will get rid of Macron trouble as soon as possible," Erdogan told reporters after Friday prayers in Istanbul.
Macron played down Erdogan's remarks when asked for a reaction by online platform Brut on Friday, saying "I believe in respect. I think insults between political leaders is not the way to do things."
Turkey and France are embroiled in a series of disputes, from tensions in the eastern Mediterranean to the contested Nagorno-Karabakh region.
And the spat has risen to new levels in recent months as France has moved to crack down on Islamist extremism after several attacks on French soil. Erdogan has repeatedly suggested that Macron get "mental checks" and urged the Turkish people to boycott French products.
Turkey and France are also at odds over Nagorno-Karabakh, a region of Azerbaijan populated by ethnic Armenians that broke away from Baku's control in a 1990s post-Soviet war.
Fresh fighting broke out in September, until a Russian-brokered ceasefire deal was sealed last month.
Turkey is a staunch ally of Azerbaijan.
France along with Russia and the United States co-chairs the Minsk Group, which has led talks seeking a solution to the conflict for decades but has failed to reach a lasting agreement.
Last month, the French Senate adopted a non-binding resolution calling on France to recognise Nagorno-Karabakh as an independent state.
Erdogan said that France had lost its "mediator role" in the Karabakh dispute.
The hard-line Turkish newspaper Daily Sabah suggests that Macron's position against Turkey was to "distract from his political failures at home". But analysts suggest it's more likely that Erdogan is stepping up the populist remarks because he feels his control slipping.
In the article "Erdogan's populism loses control," Chatham House consulting fellow Fadi Hakura says that after a stretch of successful populist policies where Erdogan "took advantage of the many divisions plaguing the country", a fatigue with populist ideology is now evident.
During elections last year, Erdogan's AKP party lost Istanbul, Ankara and other population centres. And this year, the Turkish population in Northern Cyprus protested against Erdogan's hands-on policy in the region.
Turkey's conversion of Istanbul's Hagia Sofia into a mosque, the invasion of northern Syria last October, military intervention in Libyan, muscle-flexing in the Eastern Mediterranean, the backing of Azerbaijan in Nagorno-Karabakh, "and the whipping up of sentiment over the French Charlie Hebdo cartoon" have led, at most, to minor and fleeting blips in presidential approval ratings, according to Hakura