Merkel in Turkey to salvage battered alliance

German Chancellor Angela Merkel presses Turkey's Tayyip Erdogan on freedom of expression on her first visit since last July's failed coup against him.
Dr Merkel and Mr Erdogan's meeting takes place amid strained relations in the wake of the July 15 failed coup.
Dr Merkel and Mr Erdogan's meeting takes place amid strained relations in the wake of the July 15 failed coup.PHOTO: EUROPEAN PRESSPHOTO AGENCY

ANKARA • German Chancellor Angela Merkel visited Turkey yesterday to meet President Recep Tayyip Erdogan for the first time since July's failed coup, seeking to keep a key partnership alive after a series of crises.

Dr Merkel will also meet Prime Minister Binali Yildirim and Turkish opposition figures during the sensitive one-day visit to Ankara, which has caused controversy at home and in Turkey.

The German leader arrived in Ankara in the early afternoon and headed to talks with Mr Erdogan at his palace, with both sides expected to make a statement afterwards.

The relationship between the two Nato allies has been battered in the last months by a series of rows in the wake of the July 15 failed coup aimed at ousting Mr Erdogan.

Berlin has repeatedly expressed unease over the extent of the crackdown that has seen some 43,000 people arrested in the wake of the putsch, under a state of emergency that has now lasted over half a year.

Mr Erdogan, meanwhile, has vented his exasperation that Germany has not responded to requests for the extradition of hundreds of suspects linked to the coup, the Kurdish militant movement and the ultra-left.

Germany is home to some three million people of Turkish origin, the biggest population of Turks in the world outside Turkey.

The number of asylum requests made to Germany from Turkish citizens has shot up from 1,700 in 2015 to 5,700 last year, likely due to the crackdown after the coup.

Last week, it was reported that 40 Turkish soldiers stationed at Nato bases had asked Berlin for asylum, with Turkey pressing for the bids to be rejected.

While Germany has expressed alarm over an alleged deterioration of press freedom in Turkey, Ankara wants Berlin to hand over the former opposition Cumhuriyet newspaper's editor-in-chief, Mr Can Dundar, who escaped the country after the coup.

Mr Dundar has founded a new anti-Erdogan news portal in Germany - Ozguruz (We Are Free) - and been received as an honoured guest by officials, including President Joachim Gauck.

The visit is all the more sensitive with Mr Erdogan planning a referendum in April on new powers that critics say will create one-man rule. Dr Merkel faces elections at home in September, where policy on Turkey will be a key issue.

The German Chancellor was also due to meet opposition Republican People's Party leader Kemal Kilicdaroglu and figures from the pro-Kurdish People's Democratic Party, whose co-leaders are under arrest.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 03, 2017, with the headline 'Merkel in Turkey to salvage battered alliance'. Print Edition | Subscribe