Last week President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan presented a proposal to help cultivate the habit of reading in the nation's youth, with a new election promise for the June 24 presidential and parliamentary elections.
Turkey has long sought to increase reading among the public, however, the opposition has not particularly embraced the idea of reading houses.
Campaigning for reelection on Thursday, Erdoğan vowed to set up public kıraathanes, reading houses, in all cities, with both books and snacks on offer.
"We'll build the nation's kıraathanes. ...These places will be filled with books and there will be cake, tea and coffee," he said in a rally in the southern Hatay province.
In Turkish, kıraathane means reading house, a termed used during the Ottoman era for venues that reflect the actual meaning of the word.
However, more recently, kıraathanes have been used as hang outs, mostly by the unemployed or the retired, for drinking tea, coffee and playing games, and they do not have any books.
Erdoğan said people young and old alike would go there to read books, newspapers, magazines and enjoy free treats and that these venues would be open 24 hours a day.
The president said the aim with reading houses is to increase the reading habits among the youth, while turning the youth away from bad habits.
Speaking later that day in the capital Ankara, Erdoğan also said the kıraathanes will no longer be places where people play cards, reversing a shift in which the houses became known for non-gambling games.
He said they would measure around 100-400 square meters, depending on the size of the city.
Visiting a newly built kıraathane in Istanbul's Zeytinburnu district, Erdoğan said last week, "Students say, 'We aren't going home, we study here because when we go home, other things occupy us, but we're just studying here'."
Erdoğan's rival in the June 24 presidential elections, the Republican People's Party (CHP) presidential candidate Muharrem İnce has criticized the project, saying the reading houses would attract the unemployed, referring to kıraathane's image nowadays, and that people would go there to eat free cake.
"I say 'factory,' Erdoğan says 'kıraathane'," Muharrem İnce said last Friday in a televised interview on CNN Türk.
He said that he vows to find jobs for the youth, while Erdoğan offers cake.
Responding to İnce's criticism, Erdoğan said yesterday that the opposition CHP candidate does not comprehend the project.
"Mr. İnce is bothered by the nation's kıraathanes," Erdoğan said, adding that the aim is to stop youth from engaging in harmful habits and increase reading among the youth.
On June 24, Turkey will go to the polls where they will vote for members of parliament and the next president.
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