Turkish official warns German leaders on fuelling racism

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Istanbul – Top Turkish officials took to social media on Monday to criticise comments on Turkey by German Chancellor Angela Merkel and her opponent during a televised pre-election debate.

TurkeyIbrahim Kalin, spokesperson for the Turkish presidency, tweeted that Merkel and the Social Democratic Party’s Martin Schulz were attacking Turkey and President Recep Tayyip Erdogan as a diversion from more urgent problems, such as a surge in discrimination.

Kalin said Europe’s attitude toward Turkey served to create an “other” and warned that populism in German politics would fuel racism.

Omer Celik, Turkey’s chief negotiator for its European Union bid, slammed the candidates for their “careless” tone. “We do not accept these disrespectful messages against Turkey,” he tweeted.

In Sunday’s debate, Schulz said he would seek to end long-running but currently stalled talks on Turkey joining the EU because of Erdogan’s increasingly authoritarian policies.

Merkel, who has previously expressed doubts about Turkey ever joining the EU, refused to commit firmly to the same move, which would have to be agreed among EU members. But she sharply criticised Erdogan’s rule, saying: “Turkey is departing from all democratic practices at breakneck speed.”

Polls show a double-digit lead for Merkel’s conservative bloc over Schulz’s centre-left Social Democrats before Germany’s September 24 election.

One reason Merkel gave on Sunday for keeping lines of communication open with Turkey was Germany’s attempts to secure the release of 12 German citizens being held there for what Berlin considers political reasons – most recently, two who were detained last week at Antalya Airport.

A lawyer for one of those two says that the person has now been released without conditions, German Foreign Ministry spokesperson Rainer Breul told reporters in Berlin on Monday.

Turkey’s official Anadolu news agency said the couple – German citizens of Turkish origin – were detained for alleged links to the network of US-based cleric Fethullah Gulen. The woman was released pending trial, while the man’s questioning continued.

Ankara blames Gulen, a former ally of Erdogan, for last year’s coup attempt in Turkey. Gulen denies the claim.

Relations between the two countries have been tense.

Turkey has blamed Germany for harbouring people with alleged links to the failed coup as well as Kurdish militant groups, while Berlin has accused Turkey of slipping away from democratic values.

More than 50 000 people have been arrested since the coup.