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Turkey condemns candidate Perry's criticism

Republican Presidential candidate and Texas Governor Rick Perry sits down for lunch at The Drive-In Restaurant in Florence, South Carolina
Republican Presidential candidate and Texas Governor Rick Perry sits down for lunch at The Drive-In Restaurant in Florence, South Carolina

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Turkey condemned as "unfounded and inappropriate" on Tuesday comments by U.S. Republican presidential hopeful Rick Perry that the country is ruled by Islamic terrorists and questioning whether it should remain in the NATO alliance.

Perry, the governor of Texas, also said during a Republican debate in South Carolina on Monday that the United States should eliminate all aid to its long-time ally.

"Obviously when you have a country that is being ruled by what many would perceive to be Islamic terrorists, when you start seeing that sort of activity against their own citizens, then yes - not only is it time for us to have a conversation about whether or not they belong in NATO, but it's time for the United States, when we look at their foreign aid, to go to zero with it," Perry said at the debate.

Perry's campaign said on Tuesday the candidate was responding to the Fox News questioner asking about issues such as violence against civilian women. A spokesman said there was a need to "send a message" to Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan's government.

Asked on Tuesday whether he had misspoke during the debate, Perry said on CNN he did not have a problem with what he said Monday night and criticized Turkey as a country that allows honor killings.

"From my perspective, Turkey hasn't earned our trust when they're doing that to their own citizens," Perry said.

"I think Turkey has got to decide whether they want to be a country that projects those Western values that America is all about," Perry added.

Turkey noted that it had joined NATO when Perry was just 2 years old, and cited its long history of fighting terrorism, including co-chairing the Global Counterterrorism Forum with the United States.

"We strongly condemn the unfounded and inappropriate allegations expressed yesterday evening about our country during a debate held in South Carolina by Texas Governor Rick Perry ...," Turkish Foreign Ministry spokesman Selcuk Unal said in Ankara.

He noted that Perry trailed in the race for the Republican nomination to oppose President Barack Obama's re-election and said, "This reflects the commonsense of the U.S. electorate."

In Washington, State Department spokesman Mark Toner said the Obama administration fundamentally disagreed with the assertion that Turkey was run by Islamic terrorists.

(Reporting by Yesim Dikmen in Ankara, Karen Brooks in Austin and Arshad Mohammed and Patricia Zengerle in Washington; Editing by Cynthia Osterman and Peter Cooney)

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