Turkey’s Erdogan Says Arrested Journalist is ‘German Spy’

SUZAN FRASER, DAVID RISING, AP

ANKARA, Turkey (AP) — Tensions flared between Ankara and Berlin on Friday over the cancellation of two Turkish Cabinet members’ rallies in Germany, and the ongoing detention in Turkey of a German newspaper reporter.

Delivering a speech in Istanbul, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan alleged the Die Welt newspaper journalist was both a German spy and a “representative” of the outlawed Kurdish rebel group, PKK.

Erdogan lashed out at Germany and accused Berlin of harboring him for a month at the German Consulate in Istanbul before agreeing to hand him over to authorities.

“They need to be put on trial for aiding and abetting terrorism,” Erdogan said.

An upcoming referendum to increase the Turkish president’s powers has been another flash point. Earlier Friday, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu spoke out against Germany over the canceled rallies, saying forces within the German state were working to prevent Turkish leaders from campaigning there for a “yes” vote.

German Foreign Ministry spokesman Martin Schaefer responded that the federal government had nothing to do with the cancellations, and suggested Turkish officials voicing their irritation in the press was in “nobody’s interest” and simply “pouring oil onto the fire.”

The German and Turkish foreign ministers appeared to tone down the rhetoric later in the day after a telephone conversation during which Cavusoglu relayed Turkey’s “unease” over the cancellation of the Turkish justice and economy ministers’ campaign programs, Turkey’s Foreign Ministry said.

It said the two ministers agreed to meet on March 8 in Germany. Gabriel’s office called it a “constructive and engaged” conversation.

Erdogan however, re-escalated tensions hours later, saying Turkey would continue to criticize Germany.

“They are telling us, ‘Why are you whipping up the issue?'” Erdogan said. “Just you wait, we have only just started. We are going to expose all that you have done in several international meetings.”

Relations already were strained between the two countries over Germany’s criticism of Erdogan’s crackdown following a failed coup as a flow of Turkish diplomats and soldiers sought asylum in Germany.

Germany has suggested it may not extradite suspects wanted by Turkey in cases it considers politically motivated, which has prompted Erdogan to accuse Germany of having “become a shelter” for terrorists and for having no regard for other countries’ national security issues.

The growing rift has potential security implications.

Germany has reconnaissance aircraft deployed at a NATO base in Turkey as part of the alliance’s fight against the Islamic State group. The European Union is also relying on Turkey to uphold a deal to stem the flow of migrants into Europe.

The Turkish leaders’ comments came the day after local authorities in southwestern Germany withdrew permission for the Turkish justice minister to use a venue for a political rally for Turks living in Germany, citing insufficient space.

The justice minister, Bekir Bozdag, canceled a meeting with his German counterpart in protest, while Turkey summoned the German ambassador seeking an explanation.

Recalling previous incidents, including one last year when Erdogan was also blocked from addressing Turkish citizens, Cavusoglu said, “This has become a systematic practice of the German deep state.”

Chancellor Angela Merkel’s spokeswoman, Ulrike Demmer, said the federal government was not involved in canceling Bozdag’s engagement in Gaggenau, or a separate rally in Cologne planned for Saturday with Turkey’s economy minister.

City officials said they canceled that event because organizers had misled them about its purpose, saying they were initially told it would be a theater performance.

Demmer reiterated that the government has no plans to prevent Turkish officials from speaking to the 1.4 million Turkish voters in Germany. She said Germany wants to lead by example on issues of freedom of speech and opinion, but that “we respect the decisions that were taken” in Cologne and Gaggenau.

Despite the cancellations, Turkish Economy Minister Nihat Zeybekci said he would travel to Germany on Sunday to speak at different events in the Cologne area and, if necessary, meet Turkish citizens face-to-face.

“It is our duty to go to battle; victory belongs to Allah,” the state-run Anadolu Agency quoted Zeybekci as saying. “If we see that they still don’t give us permission, we’ll go from coffee house to coffee house, we’ll go house to house, and we’ll still meet with our citizens in Germany.”

Municipal officials in Leverkusen, where Zeybekci was to address a cultural association gathering, and Frechen, where he was to give opening greetings at a concert, said they had no plans to stop his appearances, Germany’s dpa news agency reported.

Other German media later reported that the operator of the hall in Frechen had canceled the event.

German officials have expressed deep concern about the Die Welt newspaper journalist. Deniz Yucel, who has both Turkish and German citizenship, was taken into custody last month following his reports about a hacker attack on the email account of Turkey’s energy minister.

Chancellor Angela Merkel has called on Turkey to free Yucel, who was formally arrested last week. Schaeffer said Germany still has not received a reply to its request for the reporter to be given access to German consular officials.

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Rising reported from Berlin
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