Merkel, Erdogan hold tense talks in shadow of protests

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. (AFP)
Updated 28 September 2018
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Merkel, Erdogan hold tense talks in shadow of protests

  • Erdogan's state visit to Germany, complete with military honors, is Erdogan’s first there since becoming president in 2014
  • Erdogan critics have vowed to take to the streets across Germany to protest

BERLIN: Germany’s Angela Merkel hosts Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Berlin Friday to try to repair badly frayed ties, a task complicated by planned anti-Erdogan protests and the chancellor’s own domestic woes.
The pair are meeting a day after Germany beat Turkey to become the Euro 2024 host nation, following a tight race that took on political significance when Erdogan fanned accusations of German discrimination in football.
In an editorial in the Frankfurter Allgemeine daily, Erdogan said he wanted to “turn the page” on a long period of tensions, sparked by Berlin’s criticism of his crackdown on opponents after a failed 2016 coup.
His state visit to Germany, complete with military honors, is Erdogan’s first there since becoming president in 2014 and comes as he is sparring with US President Donald Trump and the Turkish economy is in rapid decline.
But critics, including rights campaigners and German politicians, are angered by the red carpet treatment for a leader who has built an increasingly authoritarian reputation and just 18 months ago accused Berlin of “Nazi practices.”
Merkel herself has repeatedly stressed the importance of good relations with Ankara, a partner she relies on to help stem the flow of migrants to Europe.
But the hostility toward the visit comes at an awkward time for the veteran chancellor, who can ill afford any missteps after being weakened by a slew of crises that have rocked her fragile coalition.
Europe’s de facto leader last week was forced to backtrack on a decision to promote a domestic spy chief who was under fire for his alleged far-right links, prompting Merkel to admit she had misread the public mood.
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.
Demonstrators are also planning to protest in Cologne on Saturday where Erdogan will open one of Europe’s largest mosques, commissioned by the Turkish-controlled Ditib organization.
“Erdogan wants a fresh start with Germany. This is an opportunity,” the Sueddeutsche Zeitung said, urging Merkel to push Ankara to end its repressive tactics and free the five remaining German-Turkish nationals considered political prisoners by Berlin.
“But we can’t just forget everything that happened. It could take years to rebuild trust,” it added.
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.
But a gradual rapprochement began after German-Turkish journalist Deniz Yucel was freed earlier this year. He still face terror-related charges in Turkey however.
Germany is home to a three-million strong Turkish community and observers said Merkel now faced the delicate balancing act of accepting Erdogan’s outstretched hand — without glossing over their disagreements.
Erdogan for his part said he would use his trip to urge Germany to show “the necessary support” in fighting 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.
Turkey’s stalled EU membership bid and its role in the conflict in Syria are likewise expected to be on the agenda.
In terms of economic cooperation, Der Spiegel weekly reported that German conglomerate Siemens was in talks to lead a potentially 35-billion-euro ($40-billion) deal to modernize Turkey’s rail infrastructure.
In a sign of the contentious nature of the visit, several opposition politicians have vowed to boycott Friday’s state dinner in Erdogan’s honor.
Merkel too will be absent, although her office insists it’s not out of the ordinary for her to skip such events.
Merkel and Erdogan are scheduled to hold a second round of talks on Saturday.


Four Turkish soldiers killed in clashes with PKK, says ministry

Military vehicles pass as Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG) and Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) fighters man a checkpoint on a highway connecting the Iraqi-Syrian border town of Rabia and the town of Snuny north of Mount Sinjar December 20, 2014. (REUTERS)
Updated 28 min 4 sec ago
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Four Turkish soldiers killed in clashes with PKK, says ministry

  • Macron on Friday made clear of the importance to Paris of “the security of Turkey and a de-escalation along the Syrian-Turkish border,” the French presidency said

ISTANBUL, PARIS: Four Turkish soldiers were killed on Friday in clashes with the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) near the border with Iraq, Turkey’s Defense Ministry said on Saturday.
Demiroren News Agency said a military base had been attacked in the mountainous Cukurca district of Turkey’s southeastern province of Hakkari, prompting the Turkish military to respond with a “large-scale” military operation.
“As part of ongoing operations on the Turkey-Iraq border, two soldiers were killed in clashes with terrorists despite all efforts to save them,” the ministry said, adding a total of four soldiers were killed and six wounded.
“Terrorists are under intense fire with the air operation and fire support vehicles in the region,” it said.
The PKK, which has waged an insurgency for autonomy in Turkey’s largely Kurdish southeast since 1984, is deemed a terrorist organization by Turkey, the US and the EU.
A day earlier, French President Emmanuel Macron hosted representatives of the Kurdish-led force that defeated Daesh extremists in Syria, drawing a sharp rebuke from Turkey’s Foreign Ministry.
Macron assured the Kurdish envoys of French support in their fight against the remaining militants, but Ankara accused the French leader of “seeking to confer artificial legitimacy on a faction of terrorist groups.”
“We condemn the reception by French President Emmanuel Macron of a delegation of so-called ‘Syrian Democratic Forces’ (SDF),” Turkish Foreign Ministry spokesman Hami Aksoy said in the statement.
In late March the US-backed SDF flushed out Daesh militants from their last bastion in Syria but the Kurdish-led force still warns that the militants remain a threat in places.
The SDF is an umbrella Kurdish-Arab force dominated by Kurds from the People’s Protection Units (YPG). It is regarded with huge distrust by neighboring Turkey which sees the YPG as a terror group.
Macron assured the visiting SDF representatives, who were not named, of the “active support of France in the fight against Daesh which continues to be a menace for collective security,” the presidency said in a statement.
Particularly important is the support in the “handling of terrorist fighters held as prisoners along with their families.”
European capitals are keeping a careful eye on the Daesh prisoners held by the SDF after the defeat of the militants, given many are dual nationals.
Macron also vowed that financial support would be allocated to “respond to the humanitarian needs and the socio-economic stabilization of civilian populations in Syria.”
The SDF were the West’s key ally in defeating Daesh and waged the bulk of the fighting on the ground.
But they fear being abandoned by their patrons now Daesh has been beaten, after US President Donald Trump announced the withdrawal of American forces from Syria.
France’s past contacts with the SDF’s Syrian Kurds had already angered Turkey which regards the YPG as the Syrian branch of the PKK, which has waged a 35-year insurrection against the Turkish state.
Macron on Friday made clear of the importance to Paris of “the security of Turkey and a de-escalation along the Syrian-Turkish border,” the French presidency said.
But Aksoy said Macron’s move did not sit well with the French-Turkish alliance, and warned that “Turkey will not hesitate to take measures deemed necessary to protect its national security.”