Biden urges Arab leaders over freedom of expression

Reuters News
Posted: Dec 03, 2011 8:48 AM
Biden urges Arab leaders over freedom of expression

ISTANBUL (Reuters) - U.S. Vice President Joe Biden on Saturday chided Arab leaders who restrict freedom of expression and warned that nations cannot thrive when people are not allowed to think for themselves.

"Democratic revolutions, like the ones in Tunisia, in Egypt and Libya, and the ones still unfolding in Syria and Yemen are imbued. with an entrepreneurial spirit," said Biden, addressing a summit in Istanbul to foster private sector success in the Arab world.

"It is hard to think different if you are not free to think," he said, citing the advice of the late Steve Jobs, founder of Apple computers, to 'think different'.

Biden is on an eight-day trip that began in Iraq and will end in Greece on Monday.

Biden called on Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan on Saturday at his home in Istanbul, where the 57-year-old Turkish leader was recovering from keyhole abdominal surgery on November 26.

The meeting with Erdogan, the dominant force in Turkish politics, had been seen as the centerpiece of Biden's three-day visit, but was closed to the media.

The government issued a statement on Monday saying Erdogan, who was elected for a third term in June, had had an operation and was in good health, but inevitably there will be speculation should he remain out of the public eye for too long.

The United States regards Turkey, a NATO partner, as a vital ally in an unstable region, and wants Ankara to adopt tougher sanctions against Iran.

Both nations are worried about Syria, where a bloody eight-month crackdown on pro-democracy protestors has fanned fears of wider regional instability.

Pledging support for the people in Syria, Erdogan has ditched his friendship with Syria's President Bashar al-Assad and has bluntly told him to quit.

Non-Arab Turkey's democracy is often cited as a role model for other Muslim nations, as the region copes with tumult from the Arab Spring that toppled regimes in Egypt, Libya and Tunisia, and could eventually oust Assad in Syria.

Erdogan, whose AK Party has Islamist roots, is regarded as one of the most popular leaders among Arabs in the Middle East, though critics question his democratic credentials, notably regarding the independence of the judiciary and press freedom.

While welcoming planned constitutional reforms in Turkey, Biden has raised concerns with Turkish officials over both the judiciary and the detention of journalists, a senior U.S. official said.

(Reporting by Alister Bull and Daren Butler, editing by Simon Cameron-Moore and David Cowell)