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Turkey's Prime Minister Hails Arab Democracy Efforts in Tunisia

Tunisian Prime Minister Beji Caid Essebsi, right, shakes hands with his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan at the prime minister office in Tunis, September 15, 2011.

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Thursday that Islam and democracy are
not contradictory.

On the second leg of his North Africa tour, Erdogan spoke in Tunis where the "Arab Spring" protest movement began this year. After meeting with Tunisian prime minister Beji Caid Essebsi, Erdogan said "a Muslim can run a state very successfully."

Tunisians are set to vote on October 23 in assembly elections, the first since Tunisian protests helped depose longtime ruler Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali.

In Turkey, Erdogan's party has Islamist roots and its election success has served as a model for political groups spreading in the Arab world. Turkey is 99 percent Muslim.

In comments to reporters, Erdogan also slammed Israel for saying Turkey is ready to deploy warships "at any time" if a feud with Israel over its blockade of Gaza escalates.

Erdogan's visit to Tunisia comes after a stop in Egypt.

On Wednesday, Erdogan spoke with leaders of Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood after receiving a hero's welcome from Egyptians for his pro-Palestinian stand.

Erdogan's four-day diplomatic visit to North Africa is aimed at expanding Turkey's growing influence in a region full of political upheaval.

He goes next to Libya, and is expected to meet with the head of Libya's National Transitional Council Friday.

Some in Israel have expressed concern that Erdogan's "Arab Spring" diplomatic tour will stoke anti-Israel tensions, as it comes while Turkish-Israeli relations have hit new lows.

The two countries have been in a dispute over Turkey's demand for an apology for Israel's deadly raid on a Gaza-bound Turkish aid ship last year. Turkey recently expelled the Israeli ambassador and other top diplomats from Ankara, and has suspended military trade and cooperation with Israel.

Some information for this report was provided by AP, AFP and Reuters.