ISTANBUL (AP) — Turkey's president harshly criticized Germany on Thursday, accusing the country of supporting terrorism and slamming comments by Germany's justice minister suggesting that Berlin may not extradite suspects wanted by Turkey in cases it considers politically motivated.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan attacked comments by German Justice Minister Heiko Maas, who said Berlin could refuse to extradite cases related to the "so-called (post-coup) cleansing that is taking place."
Maas was referring to the mass arrests, firings of civil servants and news media closures that have accompanied Turkey's clampdown on the movement led by U.S.-based Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen. Turkey accuses Gulen of masterminding a failed coup in July that left over 270 people dead. Gulen has denied knowledge of the coup attempt.
Slamming Germany's hesitation to return prosecutors suspected of being members of the Gulen movement, Erdogan accused Germany of having "become a shelter" for terrorists and for having no regard for other countries' national security issues.
"You will forever go down in history for supporting terrorism," he declared.
Erdogan also blasted German criticism of the post-coup crackdown.
"The German minister said they were watching the operations against terrorism-supporting newspapers with alarm," he said. "Well, we are watching Germany's stance and its subsequent policies with alarm— no, with horror."
Erdogan's comments come a day after German Chancellor Angela Merkel criticized Turkey's detention Monday of senior staff at the opposition Cumhuriyet newspaper, saying the situation was "highly alarming."
German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said he did not "at all" understand Erdogan's comments about Germany supporting terrorism. Speaking Thursday in Berlin, he said Germany's desire to maintain close relations with Turkey "cannot lead us to be shy of speaking our minds if, from our point of view, there is a danger to freedom of the press and opinion."
In addition to demanding the extradition of suspects abroad, Turkey has arrested almost 37,000 people and dismissed or suspended over 100,000 personnel from government jobs.
Opposition parties, human rights groups and international allies have all criticized Ankara for using the failed coup to clamp down not only on alleged coup plotters, but on all government critics including pro-Kurdish and left-wing individuals and media outlets.
Erdogan invited German officials to tour the Turkish Parliament, which was hit by jets on the night of the coup.
"I wonder what they would do if their Parliament had been bombed," he said.
Geir Moulson in Berlin contributed.