President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Thursday hailed the founder of modern Turkey Mustafa Kemal Ataturk on the 78th anniversary of his death but added the country's influence should go well beyond the borders of the state he created.
Ataturk, who died on November 10, 1938, founded Turkey as a secular republic in 1923 out of the ruins of the Ottoman Empire and defeat in World War I.
He remains a hero for many modern Turks and, as is traditional, life across the country again came to a halt for two minutes from 9:05 am (0605 GMT) to mark his passing, with sirens wailing and traffic stopping on the Bosphorus bridge in Istanbul.
Thousands of people meanwhile thronged Ataturk's Anitkabir mausoleum in Ankara - where he was laid to rest after dying in the imperial-era Dolmabahce Palace in Istanbul - to pay their respects.
Erdogan has been accused by critics of eroding Ataturk's secular legacy with a creeping Islamisation and taking Turkey further from Europe.
But the president, who has overseen a relentless crackdown in the wake of the failed July 15 coup, heaped praise on Ataturk at a conference in Ankara commemorating him.
"We will reinforce more and more the independence of the Republic of Turkey that Mustafa Gazi described as his greatest work and left us as his legacy," said Erdogan.
Erdogan often describes Ataturk as Gazi - warrior - in recognition of his victory in the War of Independence that many Turks see as ensuring the existence of the country.
But in an emotionally-charged address, Erdogan also returned to a favourite theme that "Turkey is bigger than Turkey" and its influence must go well beyond its physical borders.
The Ottoman Empire at its peak covered a territory many times the size of modern Turkey, extending into the Balkans to the west and Arabia to the east.
"Our brothers in Crimea, in the Caucasus, in Aleppo and in Mosul may be beyond our physical borders but they are within the frontiers of our hearts and in the very middle of our hearts," he said.
"It's a century since we were separated from this territory. But the hope of the populations has not disappeared.
"We will not be prisoners of 780,000 square kilometres," he added, referring to the area of modern Turkey.
Anti-Erdogan media fondly recalled Ataturk but wished he could come back to reverse the country's current course. "Friend, Where are You?" headlined the anti-Erdogan daily Soczu.-
Source: National News Agency