Germany Rejects Turkish Charges, Hits Out over Press Freedom

Chancellor Angela Merkel on Friday rejected Ankara's accusations that her government had a hand in scrapping Turkish rallies in two German towns backing President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's bid for greater powers.

As a dispute between Ankara and Berlin escalates over the cancellation of the two events, Merkel also stressed that Berlin was right to criticize Ankara over press freedom.

The decisions to cancel two rallies by Turkish ministers in Germany were "taken by municipalities, and as a matter of principle, we apply freedom of expression in Germany," she said. 

"I also think that it was right of us to criticize any restrictions on press freedom."

Ties between Turkey and Germany have been frayed over a series of disputes since last July's failed coup targeting Erdogan.

In the latest episode, both sides were locked in a new row over the decisions by the small town of Gaggenau and the city of Cologne to block rallies by Turkish ministers this week.

The ministers were due to promote a referendum in April which would expand Erdogan's powers and scrap the prime minister's post.

Justice Minister Bekir Bozdag had been expected to speak in Gaggenau on Thursday but the town of around 30,000 inhabitants said it did not have the capacity to host an event likely to see a high turnout.

Likewise, Cologne authorities said a rally with Turkish Economy Minister Nihat Zeybekci as guest speaker would not take place due to difficulties in guaranteeing security at such short notice.

The cancellations were met with anger in Ankara, where Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu accused Berlin of seeking "to get in the way of a strong Turkey".

"They don't want Turkey to campaign here, they are working for a 'No'," he said.

He also accused German officials of double standards and failing to "honor democracy, freedom of expression or freedom of assembly."

But German foreign ministry spokesman Martin Schaefer said "that is a decision the federal government has absolutely no influence on ... because it falls under local or state jurisdiction on which we have zero influence."

Germany is home to about three million people of Turkish origin, the legacy of a massive "guest worker" program in the 1960s and 70s. It is the biggest population of Turks in the world outside Turkey.

Erdogan's government is keen to harness their votes for the April 16 referendum.

The latest dispute comes just days after Ankara detained Deniz Yucel, 43, a correspondent for Germany's Die Welt daily, charging him with spreading terrorist propaganda and inciting hatred.

A dual national, he has been in custody since February 18, prompting Germany's Vice Chancellor Sigmar Gabriel to say that the case would make "everything harder" for Turkish-German relations.

Source: Agence France Presse

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