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Banderas Won’t Star As Turk Leader

July 16, 1998

NEW YORK (AP) _ Antonio Banderas has withdrawn from a film about Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the founder of modern Turkey, after intense protests by Greek-Americans.

Banderas, the co-star of ``The Mask of Zorro,″ has left producer Tarquin Olivier, 61, son of actor Laurence Olivier, without a star for the $25 million project, The New York Times reported today.

However, Olivier said today that he had not been told of any withdrawal and that he is meeting with Banderas on Friday to try to assuage his concerns about a letter-writing campaign imploring him to drop the movie.

He said he was hopeful of retaining Banderas.

``It isn’t honorable for a minority to block artistic expression,″ he said, attributing the protests to ``a few disenchanted Greeks, a few disenchanted Armenians.″

Banderas’ publicist, Robin Baum, told the Times that Banderas wanted to devote full time to another film, ``The Phantom of the Opera.″ Ms. Baum’s office said she was traveling and could not immediately comment.

One letter that appeared in a Greek-American publication was signed by ``a member of the Greek community of N.Y.″ and described Ataturk as a ``savage maniac,″ ``a child molester,″ and ``mass murderer.″

Some publications also asked readers to send protest letters to Banderas and his wife, Melanie Griffith. Olivier estimated the couple may have received as many as 1,000 letters.

Ataturk is credited with creating modern Turkey out of the ruins of the Ottoman Empire. Protesters of the film fear a favorable portrayal might lead to a warming of popular feeling toward Turkey, a historical rival of Greece.

Though Ataturk turned back Greek forces from Anatolia after World War I, Greek prime minister Elevtherios Venizelos befriended him and nominated him for the Nobel Peace Prize in 1934.

Ataturk died in 1938.

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