Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan called on his countrymen on Friday to abandon alcoholic drinks in favor of ayran – a type of yogurt popular in the region, Turkish media reported.
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Erdogan was speaking at a conference regarding alcohol policy in Istanbul, where he said alcoholic drinks were promoted as healthy in the first years following the collapse of the Ottoman Empire.
"Beer was unfortunately presented as a national drink. However, our national drink is ayran," he said, referring to the staple lunchtime refreshment of yoghurt, water and salt, usually swilled down with a meaty kebab.
In the conference, attended by 1,200 experts from 53 countries, Erdogan said that by hosting the events the government is showing the importance it gives to the health issue.
He added that they are currently developing several projects intended to prevent alcohol drinking.
No sooner had he made his remarks, broadcast live on television, than social media lit up with derisive comments symptomatic of the gaping divide between Turkey's conservative Muslims on the one hand and secularists on the other.
"It's true, all of you drink ayran with your pasta inside your mosques," read one comment directed at Erdogan's official Twitter account.
"We take example from our FOREFATHER who drank our National Drink: raki," the message continued, referring to Turkey's founder, soldier-statesman Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, who was often photographed with a glass of the anisette spirit in hand.
"Erdogan, will you do a shot of ayran with me?" taunted another user on Twitter, while others lamented the prime minister's intrusion into their lives: "What's it to you what the nation drinks? You go drink ayran. Leave me alone."
But in a country where Erdogan has dominated politics virtually unchallenged for the past decade, his word is final. Shares in Turkey's top listed dairy producer Pinar Sut, which makes ayran, rose 3 percent shortly after Erdogan's remarks.
Reuters contributed to this report
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