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İmamoğlu slammed for wasting municipal resources on lavish trip to Rome

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İstanbul Mayor Ekrem İmamoğlu has come under fire for using municipal resources to take dozens of journalists on a trip to Rome in a chartered aircraft last week, reminiscent of the strongly criticized behavior of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and his ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) government.

İmamoğlu, from the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), signed an initial agreement for İstanbul to host the 2027 European Games during a ceremony in Rome last week.

The European Olympic Committees (EOC) chose Turkey’s largest city as host at a meeting in March, although the decision still must be approved by national members at a meeting in June.

EOC President Spyros Capralos, Turkish Olympic Committee Vice President Kazım Ali Kiremitçioğlu and the İstanbul mayor signed a memorandum of understanding in a ceremony in Rome on May 16, bringing the city closer to hosting the European sports event.

Many accused İmamoğlu of using the same methods as Erdoğan and his AKP government and wasting municipal funds by covering the travel and hotel expenses of 37 journalists who accompanied the mayor on the Rome trip among a 69-person delegation. Some claimed that İmamoğlu was trying to put together his own loyal team of journalists.

Media ombudsman Faruk Bildirici on Monday said in an article in the Birgün daily that he had asked Murat Ongun, an advisor to İmamoğlu, whether the municipality had covered the expenses of the journalists invited on the Rome trip, and that Ongun said in response that the question “belittled” the journalists.

“Will journalists who observe and write about Turkey’s success refrain from reporting the news just because of the event’s expenses? … We did not invite journalists to spread propaganda for us or our party. We invited them to share in the success of Turkey and İstanbul,” Bildirici quoted the advisor as saying.

Bildirici claimed that the trip to Rome was as much of a PR effort as it was about İstanbul since political writers had also been invited for the sporting event in addition to sports writers.

The media ombudsman added that the cost of the trip should have been paid by the journalists’ employers and not the municipality since this “invitation relationship” between the journalists and the mayor would affect their objectivity.

“Erdoğan’s Airbus A330 versus İmamoğlu’s Boeing 737 [chartered from Turkish Airlines for the trip] … Unfortunately, discussions are focusing on similarities [between the two figures],” Murat Sabuncu also said in a column on the T24 news website on Monday.

He said someone who would invite fewer journalists and opt for a scheduled flight, with journalists covering their own expenses from transportation to accommodation as it should be, would make “a real difference.”

Journalist Levent Gültekin also commented in a video on YouTube, saying that people invited to the event didn’t include journalists from such important and reputable opposition news websites as T24, Diken and Gazete Duvar.

“He’s chartering a plane, but what’s a mayor doing that for? This is an imitation of Erdoğan. İmamoğlu … is trying to create a presidential-like image in people’s minds,” Gültekin said.

He said a politician’s lack of sensitivity to public resources was one of the worst traits a politician could have and that similar mistakes made by the president in the past played a significant role in the country’s economic downturn.

Erdoğan and politicians from his ruling AKP have long been criticized for their extravagant lifestyles and for spending taxpayers’ money on personal expenses and travel amid the country’s ongoing economic woes.

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