Turkish official cancels German visit after rally venue ban

AP News
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Posted: Mar 02, 2017 11:29 AM
Turkish official cancels German visit after rally venue ban

BERLIN (AP) — Turkey's justice minister canceled plans to meet with his German counterpart Thursday after local authorities in southwest Germany withdrew permission for him to use a venue to hold a political rally.

Bekir Bozdag, a member of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's ruling party, was scheduled to speak at an event in Gaggenau, near the French border. The rally was part of a campaign to get Turks in Germany to vote "yes" in an upcoming referendum on increasing the powers of the president in Turkey.

Bozdag, speaking to Turkish reporters during a visit to France, said the German authorities' decision to withdraw the permit was "unacceptable." He was cancelling meeting with his German counterpart in protest and was heading back to Turkey.

"The fact that Germany, which at every opportunity speaks of freedom of expression ... has canceled a meeting of the Turkish community is unacceptable," Bozdag said. "How can we speak of democracy in a country that does not allow one meeting to take place?"

Bozdag recalled that German authorities had previously not allowed Erdogan to address a meeting by video, but said leaders of the Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK, which is also outlawed by Germany, were frequently allowed to address supporters in the country by video.

"The doors are being opened wide when it comes to the terrorist organization," he said.

Authorities in Gaggenau on Thursday withdrew permission for a local venue to host the event, citing insufficient space for the number of people expected, but said they couldn't rule out that the rally might be held elsewhere.

Germany's opposition Left Party and the nationalist Alternative for Germany party welcomed the Gaggenau authorities' decision, but urged the government to take a stronger stance against Turkish officials campaigning in Germany.

The German government has indicated it has no plans to prevent Turkish officials from speaking to the 1.4 million Turkish voters in Germany. Government spokesman Steffen Seibert told reporters on Wednesday that Germany wants to lead by example on issues of freedom of speech and assembly.

Relations have been worsening between Berlin and Ankara over the detention in Turkey of Deniz Yucel, a correspondent for the German daily Die Welt.

Chancellor Angela Merkel has called on Turkey to free Yucel and said Wednesday night that "independent journalism must be able to exist; journalists must be able to do their job."

Yucel, 43, was detained in Istanbul on Feb. 14 over his reports in Welt about a hacker attack on the email account of Turkey's energy minister. He wrote defiantly in Welt on Thursday that "even though they robbed my freedom, their interrogations and reasoning still make me laugh."

Yucel, who has both German and Turkish citizenship, was jailed Monday pending a trial on charges of terrorist propaganda and inciting hatred. On Wednesday he was taken to a prison in Silivri, 80 kilometers (50 miles) west of Istanbul.

The case was expected to have been discussed Thursday evening between Bozdag and German Justice Minister Heiko Maas in the meeting that was canceled.

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Fraser contributed from Ankara, Turkey. Kirsten Grieshaber contributed to this report from Berlin.