Turkey's Erdogan rebukes footballer over 'foreign' tattoo

Members of the Galatasaray team gather before the start of a UEFA Champions League football match between Chelsea and Galatasaray in London, on March 18, 2014 (AFP Photo/Adrian Dennis)

Istanbul (AFP) - Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan chided a promising young footballer on Friday for having a tattoo on his wrist, warning such foreign-inspired body art could give him skin cancer.

The incident occurred when Erdogan visited the Turkish national team's training facilities in Istanbul, where he chatted and shook hands with young players.

In a video circulated on social media websites, a smiling Erdogan is heard telling the 18-year old Galatasaray player Berk Yildiz: "What are these tattoos? Why do you harm your body?"

"Don't be fooled by foreigners. God forbid, it could even give you skin cancer in the future," Erdogan said as Yildiz's teammates giggled uneasily.

Erdogan beckoned over the besuited Turkish national coach Fatih Terim and the Turkish football federation president Yildirim Demiroren to further make his point.

Following Erdogan's rebuke, Yildiz promised him that he would remove his tattoo. The young player has already represented his country at junior level.

The Islamic-rooted government of Erdogan, in power for over a decade, has long been under fire for what critics say are creeping efforts to force Islamic values on the predominantly Muslim but officially secular country.

Although majority of Muslims consider permanent tattoos to be haram, or forbidden by Islam, they are quite popular in Turkey, especially among the young, urban population.

Erdogan, a practising Muslim whose wife and daughters wear the Islamic headscarf, has angered secularists for pushing through legislation curbing the late-night sale of alcohol.

He has also sparked outrage for declaring that every woman in Turkey should have three children and with proposals to limit abortion rights and the morning-after pill.