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
0

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.


North Korea faces lowest crop harvest in 5 years, widespread food shortages -UN

Updated 32 min 22 sec ago

North Korea faces lowest crop harvest in 5 years, widespread food shortages -UN

  • South Korea has pledged to provide 50,000 tons of rice aid to its northern neighbor through the UN World Food Programme
  • Sporadic famines are common in North Korea, although a severe nationwide famine in the 1990s killed as many as a million people

SEOUL: North Korea’s crop production this year is expected to drop to its lowest level in five years, bringing serious shortages for 40 percent of the population, as a dry spell and poor irrigation hit an economy already reeling from sanctions over its weapons programs, the United Nations said on Thursday.
In its latest quarterly Crop Prospects and Food Situation report, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) said the poor harvest of the country’s main crops, rice and maize, means 10.1 million people are in urgent need of assistance.
“Below-average rains and low irrigation availability between mid-April and mid-July, a critical period for crop development, mainly affected the main season rice and maize crops,” the FAO said. The report, which covers cereal supply and demand around the world and identifies countries that need external food aid, didn’t disclose detailed estimates of production by volume.
North Korea has long struggled with food shortages and a dysfunctional state rationing system, and state media has in recent months warned of drought and other “persisting abnormal phenomena.”
The crops shortfall comes as the country bids to contain the spread of African swine fever in its pig herd, following confirmation of a first case in May.
The disease, fatal to pigs though not harmful to humans, has spread into Asia — including South Korea — since first being detected in China last year, resulting in large-scale culls and reduced production of pork, a staple meat across the region including in North Korea.
The FAO report followed earlier UN assessments this year that the isolated country’s food production last year fell to its lowest level in more than a decade amid a prolonged heatwave, typhoon and floods.
South Korea has pledged to provide 50,000 tons of rice aid to its northern neighbor through the UN World Food Programme (WFP). But its delivery has been delayed by Pyongyang’s lukewarm response amid stalled inter-Korean dialogue and denuclearization talks with the United States, Seoul officials said.
In July, the North’s official KCNA news agency said a campaign to mitigate the effects of drought was under way by digging canals and wells, installing pumps, and using people and vehicles to transport water.
But North Korea has told the United Nations to cut the number of its staff it deploys in the country for aid programs. citing the “politicization of UN assistance by hostile forces.”
Sporadic famines are common in North Korea, but observers said a severe nationwide famine in the 1990s killed as many as a million people.