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Obama caps Turkey visit with student 'town hall'

The president fielded questions on Iraq before heading to Baghdad for an unannounced visit.

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The Turkish public's opinion of the US has reached a record low in recent years, something that was reflected in films, television, and books. Turks and Americans fighting it out in Northern Iraq was the theme of both a 2005 Turkish bestseller called "Metal Storm," and "Valley of the Wolves," a 2006 film that became one of Turkey's best-grossing films ever.

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In his opening statements to the students, Obama set out to counter what he said was a false message being delivered about the US.

"Sometimes it suggests that America has become selfish or crass and doesn't care about the world beyond its borders," Obama told the students. "I'm here to tell you that's not the America I know.

"We are still a place where anyone who tries can still make it. If that wasn't true, then someone named Barack Hussein Obama could not become president," the president added.

Obama held a similar, if larger, town hall meeting with French and German students during last week's NATO summit in Strasbourg, France. His attempt to reach out to the Turkish public comes after a well received effort by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who, during an early March visit to Turkey, went on a popular television chat show to talk about her work and personal life.

"It's a different style, but I think it's effective," says Berna Ozkale, a senior studying chemical engineering at Istanbul Technical University who was among the students at the town-hall meeting.

"All these students are here because they have hope in the new American president," she said. "I wouldn't have come if it was George Bush. I don't think it would have improved me."

Walking around with a wireless microphone, Obama took questions covering America's position on climate change, its support for Turkey's bid to join the European Union, and how his policies might be different from those of the Bush years.

In one of his answers, Obama talked about his hopes for peace in the Middle East and the difficulties of "unspooling centuries of hate."

"Learning to stand in someone else's shoes, to see through their eyes, that's how peace begins," the president told the student who posed the question. "And it's up to you to make that happen."

Before his meeting with the students, Obama visited two of Istanbul's best known landmarks: the Blue Mosque and the Hagia Sophia, a Byzantine church that is now a museum.

Earlier in the day, Obama met with religious leaders, including Turkey's chief rabbi and the Orthodox and Armenian patriarchs.

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