ISTANBUL, Turkey - Authorities in the ancestral Turkish town of soccer star Mesut Ozil have erected a new street sign showing him posing with President Tayyip Erdogan after the player quit the German team, saying he faced "racism and disrespect" for his Turkish roots.
The sign marking "Mesut Ozil Avenue", named in honour of the player, replaces one picturing him wearing the international strip of Germany, the country of his birth. The picture of a smiling Ozil and Erdogan side by side, holding up the team shirt of his English club Arsenal, set off a row in Germany when the photo was snapped in May.
Erdogan, who was campaigning for re-election when the photo was taken, has drawn criticism in Germany for a crackdown following a coup attempt in 2016, with the president responding in kind. Mustafa Semerci, the mayor of the Black Sea town of Devrek - the original home of Ozil's family - said he had changed the sign after "we watched with sadness what was done to Ozil", according to Turkish news agency DHA.
Ozil, 29, a key member of Germany's World Cup-winning team in 2014, was also photographed with Erdogan along with Ilkay Gundogan, a team mate likewise of Turkish descent. Ozil's announcement that he would no longer play for Germany came amid a political debate about an influx of 1.6 million migrants in the past four years that has fuelled a far-right resurgence and weakened support for traditional parties.
Meanwhile, Erdogan said on Tuesday the treatment of Ozil was unacceptable. "Such a racist treatment towards a young man who has given his all to the German national team for his religious beliefs is unacceptable," Erdogan told reporters in parliament.
He said he spoke to Ozil on Monday night and described his approach as "beyond any form of admiration", adding that Ozil's critics "could not stomach" the photograph of the soccer star and Erdogan that prompted criticism ahead of the World Cup.