Recep Erdogan of Turkey meets Angela Merkel to increase ties, offends many Germans

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Katrin Bennhold

Berlin | A three-day state visit to Germany by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey should have been aimed at repairing relations at a time of looming domestic economic crisis.

But if Erdogan was in a charm offensive, the Germans seemed to agree that, after just 24 hours in Berlin, it was more offensive than glamorous.

The first thing the Turkish president did?

Apparently Erdogan showed a four-finger salute from a Muslim Brother in central Berlin and called for the extradition of 69 Turkish exiles to Germany, including journalists and lawyers investigating the government of Erdogan and risking imprisonment at home.

"Stop the German support for Erdogan" reads the protest sign held by a woman in Berlin while Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan was in the capital on an official visit with German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

Markus Schreiber

Chancellor Angela Merkel was not impressed.

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Staying firmly next to the Turkish leader at a press conference in Berlin, he noted "profound differences" between the two countries regarding freedom of the press and the rule of law, and insisted that Erdogan release several political prisoners held in Turkey, among five German citizens.

"I urged these cases to be resolved as quickly as possible," Merkel said, while Erdogan stared straight ahead.

"Implement Nazi tactics"

Faced with the worst economic crisis in his country in 15 years, the Turkish leader has eased his anti-Western rhetoric in recent weeks. Only a year ago, he defined the German government as "the enemy of Turkey". Turkish officials have accused Berlin of having deployed Nazi tactics, and Turkish newspapers have called German companies into Turkish spies.

"Germany has an interest in an economically stable Turkey," says Chancellor Angela Merkel.

Krisztian Bocsi

This week, Erdogan said: "We want to leave all problems behind and create a warm environment between Turkey and Germany just like before."

But the façade tumbled rapidly, as before.

Among the names on the extradition list, which was presented Monday at the Foreign Ministry in Berlin, according to the Turkish newspaper Yeni Akit, is Can Dundar, former editor-in-chief of the Turkish newspaper Cumhuriyet.

Dundar escaped from Turkey in 2016 after being convicted of treason and espionage for reporting a year before Turkey's secret service handed arms to the Islamic state group. His wife stays in Turkey and is not allowed to leave the country.

A woman holds a poster to protest against the visit of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to Berlin.

A woman holds a poster to protest against the visit of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to Berlin.

Markus Schreiber

When Erdogan was informed that Dundar had planned to attend the press conference with Merkel, the Turkish president threatened to cancel the whole thing. In the end, Dundar said he would not go and make sure that his colleagues would have the opportunity to ask Erdogan's critical questions.

Asked if Merkel considered a provocation the fact that the name of Dundar was on the extradition list, the chancellor was frank: "It is no secret that there are disputes in this case".

Erdogan, meanwhile, repeated that Dundar was "an agent" who had published state secrets.

Awkward diplomacy

While not holding back her criticism, Merkel was visibly uncomfortable with a joint appearance that showed clumsy diplomacy not only from the Turkish president but also from a Western power that eventually had to deal with a budding dictator on the borders of # 39; Europe.

At one point during the press conference, a front-row photographer slipped on a shirt with a message of support for journalists imprisoned in Turkey. The man, photographer for a Turkish-language news site in Germany, was quickly removed by security personnel while Erdogan watched and smiled.

The Munich newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung he described the scene as "one would expect more in Erdogan's Turkey".

Merkel stressed that Germany and Turkey, both members of NATO, had many shared strategic interests. He announced a meeting with the leaders of France, Turkey and Russia in October to discuss the situation in Syria, in particular the rebel stronghold of Idlib.

"We have many things that unite us," he told the press conference, identifying issues related to migration and the fight against terrorism. He also expressed the hope that Turkey's economic turbulence would slow down.

"Germany has an interest in an economically stable Turkey," he said.

It will not change its spots

Erdogan is safe in his recently-appointed presidency. But the Turkish economy is in poor condition. The lira has been under intense pressure, losing nearly 40 percent of its value this year, due to high inflation and rising foreign debt. Since the lira has lost value, the Turkish companies have struggled to pay their debts.

But if the Turkish president was trying to reassure financial markets, improve trade links and seek political support, he went awkwardly away.

A photograph of him traveling through Berlin and making what seemed to be the sign of the Muslim Brotherhood supporters' hands, used by Erdogan on previous occasions, was widely shared on German social media.

"It is difficult to see how to deride more the values ​​of our country", commented Julian Reichelt, the editor of Bild, he said on Twitter.

Cem Ozdemir, a Turkish-German parliamentarian and Erdogan's long-time critic, put him in an interview with the newspaper Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung: "Erdogan has no intention of changing places, despite his attempts to offend the charm."

Erdogan's diplomatic approach is reminiscent of his trip to Greece last winter, which was less than swimming, the Turkish leader suggested to re-adjust the borders, even before arriving in Athens.

The state visit to Germany is hosted by the German president, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, whose role is largely ceremonial. A wave of criticism was welcomed.

Thousands of protesters, including many of Turkish origin, took to the streets of Berlin near the Erdogan hotel on Friday afternoon. A banner, held by a Kurdish woman near the Brandenburg Gate, said: "Erdogan you are not a leader, you are a dictator". Another declared: "To get lost, Erdogan!"

Several German parliamentarians joined the protests instead of attending a state banquet on Friday evening.

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