Erdogan, Merkel to meet amid tensions, protests

The Kurdish community in Germany denounced on September 17, 2018 a "ban" by the Berlin authorities of a planned protest at the Brandenburg Gate on September 29, 2018 in Berlin against the visit of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. (File/AFP/John Macdougall)
Updated 26 September 2018
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Erdogan, Merkel to meet amid tensions, protests

  • It will be Erdogan’s first official visit to Germany since becoming president in 2014
  • Some 10,000 people are expected to rally under the motto “Erdogan Not Welcome” in Berlin on Friday alone

FRANKFURT AM MAIN: Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan will pay a state visit to Germany this week as the two countries seek to rebuild ties after a series of sharp spats but the controversial trip is likely to be overshadowed by protests.
It will be Erdogan’s first official visit to Germany since becoming president in 2014, and follows a prolonged bout of tensions sparked by Berlin’s criticism of his crackdown on opponents in the wake of a failed 2016 coup.
“The main goal of this visit is to completely leave behind this period (of tensions),” Erdogan told Turkish media.
The Turkish leader will land in Berlin Thursday and hold talks with Chancellor Angela Merkel over the following two days.
German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier will welcome him with military honors and a state dinner at Bellevue Palace on Friday — which several opposition politicians have vowed to boycott. Merkel too will be notably absent.
On Saturday, Erdogan will travel to Cologne to open one of Europe’s largest mosques, commissioned by the Turkish-controlled Ditib organization.
Commentators have been quick to point out that Erdogan’s push for a fresh start comes as the Turkish economy is struggling and relations with the United States have worsened.
Thousands of Erdogan critics have vowed to take to the streets across Germany to protest everything from Turkey’s record on human rights and press freedom to its offensive against Kurdish militia in Syria.
Some 10,000 people are expected to rally under the motto “Erdogan Not Welcome” in Berlin on Friday alone.
With no shortage of political and economic issues hanging over the visit, the shadow of football also looms large.
Turkey and Germany are locked in a bitter race to host the Euro 2024 tournament, with the winner to be announced the day Erdogan arrives.
Germany’s bid has been clouded by Turkish-origin player Mesut Ozil’s resignation from the national team over perceived racism — a move praised by Erdogan.
Relations between the two NATO countries plummeted after Turkish authorities arrested tens of thousands of people in a mass purge over the attempted putsch against Erdogan, including some who were also German nationals.
But a gradual rapprochement began after German-Turkish journalist Deniz Yucel was freed earlier this year, while journalist Mesale Tolu was allowed to return to Germany last month. Both still face terror-related charges in Turkey.
Merkel, whose country is home to a three-million-strong Turkish community, has repeatedly stressed the importance of good relations with Ankara, a partner she relies on to help stem the flow of migrants arriving on European shores.
But Germany’s best-selling Bild newspaper said it was too soon to roll out the red carpet for Erdogan, who just 18 months ago accused Berlin of “Nazi practices” for blocking rallies supporting him ahead of a referendum that gave him sweeping new powers.
“Now that Turkey is grappling with a currency crisis and its economy has hit rock-bottom, Erdogan wants to be our friend again,” it said in an editorial.
“This is too much pomp and ceremony for Erdogan. We’re not there yet.”
Erdogan said he would use the visit to press Germany for “more efficiency” in the fight against “terrorist groups” like the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and the movement of Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen, whom Ankara blames for the coup.
Other topics on the agenda will likely be Turkey’s stalled EU membership bid and its role in the conflict in Syria.
To help smooth over the diplomatic reset, Erdogan could dangle the promise of a major project to modernize Turkey’s rail infrastructure.
Der Spiegel weekly reported that German giant Siemens was in talks to lead the potential 35-billion-euro deal ($40 billion), but it was unclear whether Berlin would help finance it.
In a sign of the contentious nature of his visit, Erdogan is not scheduled to make any big public speeches in Germany.
Die Welt reporter Yucel, who spent over a year behind Turkish bars, condemned Berlin for “inviting a criminal to a banquet.”
“The German government is betraying all those in Turkey who long for a free, democratic and secular society,” he said.


Nigeria votes for a new president after delay

International and local electoral observers arrive to attend briefing by the chairman of the Nigerian Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) about preparations for the rescheduled general elections in Abuja, on February 20, 2019. (AFP)
Updated 31 min 36 sec ago
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Nigeria votes for a new president after delay

  • Neither has produced evidence and the elections watchdog has worked round the clock to overcome difficulties in delivering materials, which it had blamed for the postponement

ABUJA: Nigerians vote for a new president on Saturday after a week-long delay that has raised political tempers, sparked conspiracy claims and stoked fears of violence.
Some 120,000 polling stations were due to open at 0700 GMT, from megacity Lagos and the oil hub Port Harcourt in the south, to ancient Kano in the north and the country’s rural heartlands.
Results are expected from early next week, with the winner gaining control of Africa’s most populous nation and leading oil producer for four years.
In a crowded field of 73 presidential hopefuls, the two frontrunners — incumbent Muhammadu Buhari, 76, and former vice president Atiku Abubakar, 72 — are expected to vote in their home towns.
Electors are also choosing 360 members of the House of Representatives and 109 senators from a choice of 6,500 candidates.
The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) last Saturday announced a one-week delay to the election, just hours before it was due to get under way.
That angered voters who had already traveled to their home towns and villages to participate, and saw the main parties accuse the other of conspiring with INEC to rig the result.
Neither has produced evidence and the elections watchdog has worked round the clock to overcome difficulties in delivering materials, which it had blamed for the postponement.
INEC chairman Mahmood Yakubu has given an indication of the scale of the task, announcing that more than 825,000 temporary staff had been drafted in to help conduct the vote.
More than 80,000 vehicles and nearly 1,000 boats have been hired to transport ballot papers, results and other materials to and from polling units.
“I want to reassure you that elections will be held on Saturday,” he said on Thursday. “There won’t be another postponement.”

The logistical fine-tuning, however, has been overshadowed by comments from Buhari that he had ordered security forces to be “ruthless” with vote-riggers and ballot-box snatchers.
Critics said his warning was a “license to kill” to the police and the military, while Abubakar said his comments were not fitting for an elected head of state.
Buhari has since sought to reassure voters not to be afraid, promising an “atmosphere of openness and peace, devoid of fear from threat or intimidation.”
Analysts SBM Intelligence say 233 people were killed in 67 incidents of election-related violence from last October to Friday — an average of two people per day.
The election campaign has come against a backdrop of wider violence from Boko Haram Islamists and criminal gangs in the north that have killed more than 200 people this month alone.
That could affect participation in some affected areas and combine with voter apathy from last weekend’s postponement to affect turnout, according to analysts.
Just over 84 million people were registered to vote but only 72.7 million (86 percent) of those will be allowed to vote, as they have picked up their voter identity cards.

In 2015, former military ruler Buhari became the first opposition candidate in Nigerian history to defeat a sitting president, beating Goodluck Jonathan by 2.5 million votes.
Buhari has again vowed to be tough on insecurity and corruption, and wants to complete much-needed road and rail infrastructure projects, as well as social mobility schemes.
Abubakar is a pro-business free marketeer whose main pledges have been to privatise giant state-run companies and float the embattled naira currency.
Nigerian elections have previously been characterised by voting along ethnic and religious lines.
But with Buhari and Abubakar both northern Muslims, that could split the northern vote, making southern states a key battleground.
Opponents have accused Buhari of trying to manipulate the judiciary that would rule on any dispute about the results, after he suspended the country’s chief justice this month.
Nigeria’s Business Day newspaper on Friday said whoever wins has to repair a “broken economy” limping back from recession, and hit by high unemployment, inflation and weak growth.
Some 87 million Nigerians live in extreme poverty, with the gulf between haves and have-nots widening.