ANKARA, Turkey (AP) – Turkey’s foreign minister said Friday that forces within the state in Germany are working to prevent Turkish leaders from campaigning there for a “yes” vote in a referendum to increase the president’s powers – a claim quickly rejected by the government in Berlin.
Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu made the comments a 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 President Recep Tayyip Erdogan was also blocked from addressing Turkish citizens, Cavusoglu said, “This has become a systematic practice of the German deep state.”
“They don’t want Turkish leaders to campaign because they are working for ‘no’ votes,” Cavusoglu said. “They want to prevent (the creation) of a strong Turkey.”
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 the purpose of the event, 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.
Meanwhile in Gaggenau, German authorities evacuated the town hall after receiving a bomb threat, which Mayor Michael Pfeiffer said seemed certain to be linked to the cancellation.
Experts with sniffer dogs searched the building but no bomb was found.
Cavusoglu also accused Berlin of treating Turkey like a second-class country.
“Turkey is not a country that takes your orders. You are not Turkey’s boss,” he said.
German Foreign Ministry spokesman Martin Schaefer suggested Turkish officials should talk with their German counterparts directly, saying a confrontation through the press was in “nobody’s interest” and simply “pouring oil onto the fire.”
Turkish Economy Minister Nihat Zeybekci said he would travel to Germany on Sunday to speak at 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.
The dispute over the Turkish leaders’ campaign rallies comes amid already worsening ties between Berlin and Ankara over the detention in Turkey of Deniz Yucel, a correspondent for the German daily Die Welt. The dual Turkish-German citizen was arrested pending trial over accusations of terrorist propaganda and inciting hatred.
Chancellor Angela Merkel has called on Turkey to free Yucel. Schaeffer said Germany has still received no reply to its request that Yucel be given access to German consular officials.
Words: Suzan Fraser and David Rising.