Germany puts economic squeeze on Turkey

German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel announced a range of steps against Turkey in response to the detention of a German human rights activist, signalling a more confrontational stance to the Nato ally after an escalation in tensions.

Travel advisory says it cannot guarantee citizens' safety amid 'arbitrary' mass arrests

BERLIN • Germany yesterday vowed stinging measures impacting tourism and investment in Turkey and a full "overhaul" of their troubled relations, signalling its patience had snapped after Ankara's arrests of human rights activists.

The Foreign Ministry stepped up its travel advisory for the Nato ally, warning it could no longer guarantee its citizens' safety amid "arbitrary" mass arrests, a step set to hit a sector crucial to Turkey's ailing economy.

A day after his ministry summoned Turkey's ambassador, Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel interrupted his holidays and returned to Berlin to deliver his unusually strong comments towards President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Relations between Turkey and Germany, home to three million ethnic Turks, have been badly strained, particularly since a failed coup attempt a year ago against Mr Erdogan.

On Tuesday, a Turkish court ordered six human rights activists to remain in custody for allegedly aiding a "terror" group - among them Amnesty International's Turkey director Idil Eser and Berlin-based activist Peter Steudtner.

In February, Turkey arrested German-Turkish journalist Deniz Yucel from Die Welt daily on similar charges, and is also holding several other German citizens.

Mr Gabriel said Germany would review state guarantees for foreign investment in Turkey and urge businesses against putting their money there, and also review its support for billions in European Union financial flows earmarked for the long-time aspirant to membership of the bloc.

TURKEY'S RESPONSE

Sending a message... (to Germans) telling them that it's not safe to travel to Turkey is a great political irresponsibility.

PRESIDENTIAL SPOKESMAN IBRAHIM KALIN, on Germany's travel advisory.

A Social Democrat, Mr Gabriel made clear he was speaking for the coalition government led by conservative Chancellor Angela Merkel, and her spokesman soon tweeted that the steps were indeed "necessary and indispensable".

Turkey accused Germany of displaying "great political irresponsibility" in stepping up the travel warning. "Sending a message... (to Germans) telling them that it's not safe to travel to Turkey is a great political irresponsibility," presidential spokesman Ibrahim Kalin said.

Mr Gabriel recalled that Turkey, having long seen itself as "a member of the European family", had levelled Nazi jibes at Germany. He accused Mr Erdogan of worsening a crisis that Berlin had repeatedly sought to ease through dialogue.

He also accused Mr Erdogan of trying to muzzle "every critical voice" with mass arrests in sweeping crackdowns over the last year.

He stressed that Germany still wanted to rebuild relations with its long-time ally but, first, Mr Erdogan's government must "return to European values".

Mr Gabriel's warnings to tourists and business travellers could deal a significant blow to Turkey's southern resorts. So far this year, bookings from Germany have accounted for some 10 per cent of Turkey's tourists.

Germany was also Turkey's top export destination last year, buying US$14 billion (S$19 billion) worth of Turkish exports.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 21, 2017, with the headline 'Germany puts economic squeeze on Turkey'. Print Edition | Subscribe