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Germany must not let Turkey ‘grow more distant’ – Merkel

BERLIN, Germany – Chancellor Angela Merkel said on Thursday, March 9, Germany must not allow Turkey to "grow more distant," despite a row in which President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has accused her government of "Nazi" practices.

"As difficult as everything is at the moment, as unacceptable as some things are, it can’t be in our security and geopolitical interest that Turkey, a NATO partner after all, grows even more distant from us," she told parliament.

Merkel vowed to "work for German-Turkish relations, on the basis of our values and in all clarity" – stressing that these included the freedoms of speech, the press and assembly.

German and Turkish politicians have traded barbs after German local authorities banned events by Turkish officials visiting Germany in a bid to boost support for an April referendum on whether to create an executive presidency in Turkey.

The ministers are anxious to tap into Germany’s Turkish community with its 1.4 million people who are eligible to vote – the fourth largest electoral base after Istanbul, Ankara and Izmir.

Although Berlin has insisted that local authorities cancelled the rallies for logistical reasons, Turkish officials have repeatedly hit back, with Erdogan even comparing such actions to "Nazi practices".

Merkel said such rhetoric was "sad and depressing", belittled Holocaust victims and was "so out of place as to be unworthy of serious comment".

On future rallies by Turkish ministers, she said: "We continue to view such appearances by Turkish government representatives as possible as long as they are duly announced, in a timely manner, and in an open way, so that they can be approved."

The row is the latest in a long list of problems that have plagued relations and comes just after Ankara’s arrest of a journalist with the German daily Die Welt that sparked consternation in Berlin.

Merkel vowed her government would do "everything in its power" to work for the release of the writer, Deniz Yucel.

Germany and Turkey have a special relationship due to the large community of Turks who have settled in Europe’s biggest economy, the legacy of a "guest worker" ("Gastarbeiter") program dating to the 1960s and 70s.

"There are few countries with which we have ties this complicated but also this varied," said Merkel.

Those ties have been put to the test in the past year over differences on issues surrounding human rights and press freedom, particularly since last July’s failed coup in Turkey aimed at ousting Erdogan.

Berlin has emerged as a strident critic of Ankara’s vast crackdown in the aftermath of the putsch, which has seen more than 100,000 people arrested, suspended or sacked for alleged links to the plotters or to Kurdish militants. –