By Ayhan Simsek
BERLIN (AA): Germany moved to reduce tension with Turkey on Monday amid an escalating war of words between the two countries over banned meetings of Turkish ministers with members of the Turkish community.
“I believe that our task should be to normalize our relations again,” Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel told reporters in Brussels ahead an EU foreign ministers meeting.
He expressed hope that both governments would make every effort to overcome their differences, in remarks which aimed to calm down tension ahead of a meeting between German and Turkish foreign ministers in Berlin on Wednesday.
Relations between the two countries plunged to a new low last week, after German local authorities cancelled rallies of Turkish justice and economy ministers, who were scheduled to meet the representatives of Germany’s 3 million-strong Turkish community, on the proposed presidential system in Turkey.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has slammed German authorities for undermining freedom of expression and right to assembly, and said these practices “are no different than the Nazi ones of the past”.
Nearly 1.5 million Turkish residents in Germany are eligible to vote in Turkey’s April 16 referendum on constitutional reforms, which include change to a presidential system of governance. Turkish citizens will cast their votes at Turkish consulates in Germany between March 27 and April 9.
– Government against ban
Chancellor Angela Merkel’s spokesman Steffen Seibert spoke Monday against a general ban on rallies by Turkish ministers ahead of the referendum, adding the federal government was not involved in any way in last week’s decisions by local authorities.
“Public appearances of Turkish government members here in Germany are possible, within the framework of laws and regulations which should be respected here,” he told a regular press conference in Berlin.
But he also underlined that for such rallies, Turkish officials had to “orderly and timely” request permission from the local authorities.
Merkel’s spokesman deplored Erdogan’s Nazi comparison, and urged closer dialogue between the two governments to address problems in bilateral relations.
While the Turkish government and opposition leaders held various rallies in Germany in the past years without facing any problems, last week a planned rally of Turkish Justice Minister in southern German town of Gaggenau was cancelled at short notice, due to alleged security concerns.
Turkish Economy Minister Nihat Zeybekci’s planned address on Sunday to Turkish community in western city of Cologne was also cancelled by local authorities.
Zeybekci was only able to address the Turkish community members after organizers rented another hall in the city.
The controversial move of local authorities came after Germany’s opposition parties and several media organizations called on authorities to not allow Turkish politicians to address rallies ahead of April 16 referendum in Turkey.
While several opposition figures also called for a travel ban against Turkish politicians, German government ruled out such a move.
Ties between Ankara and Berlin have been strained in recent months as Turkish leaders strongly criticize their German counterparts for turning a blind eye to terrorist organizations such as the PKK and FETO, which they say use Germany as a platform for their activities targeting Turkey.
Tensions between the two countries further escalated last month after German media and politicians slammed Turkey for the pre-trial detention of Die Welt’s Istanbul correspondent Deniz Yucel on charges of terror propaganda.
[Photo: Turkey’s Economy Minister Nihat Zeybekci delivers a speech during an event held by Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development (AK) Party’s overseas election coordination centre in Cologne, Germany on March 5, 2017. Photographer: Muhabiri Mesut Zeyrek/AA]