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Actor denies that Erdogan film is propaganda

A film glorifying the young life of Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan is being screened in Turkish cinemas. Its lead actor slammed claims its release was timed to help influence April's constitutional referendum.

Speaking to journalists, actor Reha Beyoglu - who plays an adult Erdogan up to the time when he is imprisoned over allegations of Islamist activity - dismissed suggestions the delayed release of "The Chief" ("Reis" in Turkish) had been adjusted to help the president win an April referendum.

The reforms being weighed in the referendum would enable the president to appoint ministers and top state officials and dissolve parliament, declare emergency rule and issue decrees. It would also abolish the prime minister's role - traditionally Turkey's head of government - that Erdogan occupied for a decade, before becoming president and immediately pressing for a transition of powers to his new office.

Since a failed coup last July about 40,000 people have been jailed pending trial and 100,000 public sector workers suspected of links to the coup plotters suspended or dismissed under a state of emergency.

The film's premier on Sunday, Beyoglu said, had marked Erdogan's 63rd birthday.

'Not propaganda'

"This is not a propaganda film," Beyoglu said. "In order to win the popular vote on 16 April, the state secretary does not need any film." 

However, the film portrays the future politician favorably, to say the least. Scenes include the young football enthusiast scoring with an overhead kick and giving away money - given to him to buy a bicycle - to a poor friend. What's more, soap opera star Beyoglu made no secret of his personal admiration for Erdogan.

"Probably this big responsibility will be with me for the rest of my life," Beyoglu told Reuters. "Watching the screen are people who love him fanatically and I am one of those people."

In an interview with German agency DPA, Beyoglu said that the role was the pinnacle of his career. "Is there anything bigger?"  "I never thought in my life that I would ever play Recep Tayyip Erdogan. I am very, very happy."

Watch video 03:58

Locking up the free press in Turkey

"Our president is like the piece which holds Muslim prayer beads together," he said at the film's premier, borrowing from one of Erdogan's own speeches after the failed coup. "If it breaks off, the beads will scatter."  

Hail the Chief

"The Chief" was made by a little known company called Kafkasor Film Akademisi. It was not clear how much it cost to make, though some media reports put the figure at $8 million (7.5 million euros).

Hudaverdi Yavuz, the film's director, said he wanted to tell Erdogan's life story because it was "really interesting" and the film's title came from the name Erdogan has long been known by.

"When he got elected mayor of Istanbul, automatically people used the word 'Reis' (chief) ... His childhood friends, his acquaintances, they call him that," he told the French news agency AFP.

To die like men

"A person dies once. If we are going to die, let's die like men," Erdogan, then mayor of Istanbul, declares at one point in the film - a line he has used in speeches and which drew loud applause during the premiere.

The film depicts an 11-year-old Erdogan seeking to prove himself to his father and help those in his community in Istanbul's Kasimpasa district. 

The last scene shows Erdogan looking with defiance as the narrator says a "brave hero" will grow up honorable against such oppression.

Turkish actress Ozlem Balci plays his wife Emine while child actor Batuhan Isik Gurel plays Erdogan as a boy. The movie was filmed in Istanbul and Cyprus over six weeks.

Watch video 05:40

Turkish military officers flee Erdogan

jbh/msh (AFP, Reuters, dpa)

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