ISTANBUL (Reuters) - President Tayyip Erdogan has defended his decision to accept a luxury plane from Qatar at a time of economic hardship, saying it was a gift, not a purchase, and that it had been donated to the Turkish state, not to him personally.
State broadcaster TRT Haber said last week the Emir of Qatar Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani had given Erdogan the aircraft, which Turkish media said was a Boeing 747, sparking criticism from Turkey's opposition.
A lawmaker from the main opposition Republican People's Party (CHP), Sezgin Tanrikulu, had expressed concern that the aircraft had been bought rather than donated, noting that Turkey was in an economic crisis, the Hurriyet newspaper reported.
The plane, which would normally carry 400 people, had been refitted to seat just 76, the newspaper said.
Erdogan said Qatar's emir had donated the plane, which he said was worth around $500 million, to the Turkish state after hearing that Turkey had expressed interest in buying it.
"He said, 'I won't take money from Turkey. I give this as a present to Turkey'," Erdogan told reporters on a flight back from Azerbaijan at the weekend.
Turkey is grappling with a sharp fall in its currency, double-digit inflation and an expected sharp economic downturn.
Qatar, its main Arab ally, approved a $15 billion package of economic projects, investments and deposits last month, giving a boost to the battered lira.
Erdogan told reporters the plane was being repainted and once it was finished "we will travel with it. But you will be getting on the plane of the Republic of Turkey, not my plane".
(Reporting by Daren Butler, Writing by Sarah Dadouch, Editing by Dominic Evans and Gareth Jones)