Merkel, Erdogan vow to rebuild ties despite rifts

President Erdogan and his wife Emine were met by protesters outside Berlin’s Tegel airport

President Erdogan and his wife Emine were met by protesters outside Berlin’s Tegel airportBERND VON JUTRCZENKA ALAMY

Erdogan was responding to comments, at the same dinner, by German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier who voiced concern at the imprisonment of journalists, trade unionists, scientists and intellectuals in Turkey since the 2016 failed coup.

Turkey aims to win easier access to the European Union for its citizens, President Tayyip Erdogan said in Berlin on Friday.

Underscoring Turkey's expectations from Germany on combating terror groups more effectively, he said: "There are thousands of PKK terrorists living across Germany".

His call, in a newspaper article as he arrived for a three-day state visit, highlighted the gulf Erdogan must bridge if he is to fix strained political and commercial ties.

Germany has so far said it needs more evidence to link the movement of the Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen, who lives in the United States, to the attempt to overthrow Erdogan. Turkey accuses Gulen of orchestrating the coup attempt, which he denies. But she added that "on questions of how a democratic, free and open society looks, there are also deep. differences". But critics, including rights campaigners and German politicians, are angered by the red carpet treatment for a leader who has built an increasingly authoritarian reputation and just 18 months ago accused Berlin of "Nazi practices". "But we have to work together economically, and we'll certainly manage to get some agreements here", she said, without elaborating.

Erdogan said he has no right to criticize the German judiciary and Germany has no right to criticize the Turkish judicial system.

Asked about Dundar, who was convicted by Turkey in 2016 of revealing state secrets after his newspaper published photographs suggesting that Turkey's intelligence agency was involved in sending weapons to Syrian rebels, Erdogan called him a "convicted spy" who should be extradited. For her part, Merkel called for Turkey to quickly resolve the cases of five German citizens now held in the country on political charges.

Rumors were circulating Friday morning that Erdogan was threatening to boycott the news conference if Can Dundar, former editor-in-chief of Cumhuriyet newspaper, a Turkish news outlet critical of Erdogan, were to attend as planned.

During the news conference, a man wearing a T-shirt with the slogan "Freedom for Journalists" was led out when he began attempting to shout Erdogan down.

Several thousand people demonstrated against Erdogan in Berlin on Friday night amid tight security.

Erdogan, who says Dundar is a terrorist, is on a three-day visit to Germany. More protests were expected Saturday in Cologne, where the Turkish president will be opening a new mosque.

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