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Ankara accuses Germany of working against upcoming Turkey referendum

Turkey on April 16 will vote on whether to expand President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s powers. Ankara says the new system will create political stability but critics say it will herald a one-man rule.

world Updated: Mar 03, 2017 16:48 IST
Agence France-Presse
Agence France-Presse
Agence France-Presse, Ankara
A policeman with a sniffer dog in Gaggenau, southwestern Germany, which received a bomb threat after blocking a rally by Turkey's justice minister.(AFP)

Tensions between Turkey and Germany soared on Friday as Ankara accused Berlin of working for a ‘No’ vote in a referendum on Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s powers and a German town received a bomb threat after blocking a Turkish rally.

Turkey will vote on April 16 on whether to create a presidential system which Ankara says will be like that in France or the United States and ensure political stability. But critics say the system will further weaken parliament and herald one-man rule by Erdogan, Turkey’s strongman president.

Ahead of the referendum, Turkish politicians’ trips to Germany have sparked controversy, notably a rally by Prime Minister Binali Yildirim in the western city of Oberhausen to garner support for a ‘Yes’ vote.

And on Thursday, several local authorities blocked rallies by two more Turkish ministers, prompting a furious response from Ankara which promptly summoned the German envoy to protest.

“They don’t want Turkey to campaign here, they are working for a ‘No’,” Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu told reporters in the Turkish capital on Friday.

“They want to get in the way of a strong Turkey.”

Vienna has also said it would not allow any campaign-related events.

Tensions with Berlin have also increased over Ankara’s provisional detention of a German journalist on terror-related charges on Monday.

Bomb threat

As the political fallout continued, the western German town of Gaggenau which cancelled a rally by Turkish Justice Minister Bekir Bozdag said it received a bomb threat early Friday.

“The caller cited the cancellation of the event with the Turkish justice minister as a reason,” local official Dieter Spannagel told AFP.

Bozdag had been due to meet the Turkish community there on Thursday, but cancelled his address after the Gaggenau authorities withdrew their consent, citing capacity problems at the hall that was to have been used.

Cologne city authorities also withdrew permission for the Union of European Turkish Democrats to use a hall on Sunday for a speech by Economy Minister Nihat Zeybekci.

Writing on Twitter, Turkey’s EU Minister Omer Celik said Germany was damaging “the bridges between the democracies and building ideological Berlin walls that cut people off from each other.”

And Cavusoglu accused German officials of double standards and failing to “honour democracy, freedom of expression or freedom of assembly”.

Lashing out, he accused them of allowing “terrorists” from the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party to speak but denying the same right to Erdogan.

‘Learn how to behave’

Previous tensions have erupted over German criticism of Turkey’s crackdown following last year’s failed coup which has seen more than 100,000 people arrested, dismissed or sacked for alleged links to the plotters or to Kurdish militants.

On Monday, tempers flared again after Deniz Yucel, 43, a correspondent for Germany’s Die Welt daily, was charged with spreading terrorist propaganda and inciting hatred by an Istanbul court.

A dual national, he has been held in prison since February 18, with Germany’s Vice Chancellor Sigmar Gabriel saying the case would make “everything harder” for Turkish-German relations.

After Thursday’s developments, an irate Cavusoglu warned Germany, which is facing elections later this year, it would “need to learn how to behave towards Turkey” if Berlin wanted to maintain ties.

“You must see us as an equal partner,” he said.

Germany is home to the biggest population of Turks outside Turkey with around three million in the country of Turkish origin, the legacy of a massive “guest worker” programme in the 1960s-70s.

First Published: Mar 03, 2017 16:48 IST