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'Chaos' in Berlin as Merkel and Erdogan try to repair ties

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'Chaos' in Berlin as Merkel and Erdogan try to repair ties
Police officers riding motorbikes outside the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin during Erdogan's three day visit. Photo: DPA
08:50 CEST+02:00
Germany's Angela Merkel hosts Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Berlin on Friday to try to repair badly frayed ties, a task complicated by planned anti-Erdogan protests and the chancellor's own domestic woes.

The pair are meeting a day after Germany beat Turkey to become the Euro 2024 host nation, following a tight race that took on political significance when Erdogan fanned accusations of German discrimination in football.

However, in an editorial in the Frankfurter Allgemeine daily, Erdogan said he wanted to "turn the page" on a long period of tensions, sparked by Germany's criticism of his crackdown on opponents after a failed 2016 coup. 

His state visit to Germany, complete with military honours, is Erdogan's first there since becoming president in 2014 and comes as he is sparring with US President Donald Trump and the Turkish economy is in rapid decline.

But critics, including rights campaigners and 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".

A demonstrator holding a 'For democracy in Turkey' placard at an anti-Erdogan protest at Breitscheidplatz on Thursday. Photo: DPA

Merkel herself has repeatedly stressed the importance of good relations with Ankara, a partner she relies on to help stem the flow of migrants to Europe.

But the hostility towards the visit comes at an awkward time for the veteran chancellor, who can't afford any missteps after being weakened by a slew of crises that have rocked her fragile coalition.

Europe's de facto leader last week was forced to backtrack on a decision to promote a domestic spy chief who was under fire for his alleged far-right links, prompting Merkel to admit she had misread the public mood.

'Erodgan madness'

Erdogan critics have vowed to take to the streets across Germany to protest everything from Turkey's record on human rights and press freedom to its offensive against Kurdish militia in Syria.

The Turkish leader was greeted by protesters from Reporters without Borders at Tegel airport when he arrived on Thursday, questioning press freedom in Turkey. There were also protests in other parts of the city including in Breitscheidplatz in western Berlin.

An anti-Erdogan protest at Breitscheidplatz on Thursday. Photo: DPA

Some 10,000 people are expected to rally under the motto "Erdogan Not Welcome" in Berlin on Friday.

However, supporters of the president also lined the streets of Berlin waving flags on Thursday. 

Meanwhile, the German capital was flooded by security measures including areas being closed off because of the visit, prompting local newspaper B.Z to call it "Erdogan chaos".

The newspaper said the visit had plunged the central area of Berlin "into chaos", with a heavy police presence patrolling the area between the Federal Chancellery, the Reichstag building and the Hotel Adlon at Brandenburg Gate. 

Tourists looked on with bewilderment as they were unable to get to certain areas, while many people living here complained about the interruptions to the public transport network and road closures.

Erdogan madness? One of the tweets discussing the situation in Berlin with the Turkish president in town.

On Friday the strict security measures  also apply to a larger area around the 'Neue Wache' building on Unter den Linden and around Bellevue Castle.

Transport is being disrupted due to security measures surrounding Erdogan's visit. Photo: DPA

Demonstrators are planning to protest in Cologne on Saturday where Erdogan will open one of Europe's largest mosques, commissioned by the Turkish-controlled Ditib organisation.

'A fresh start'

"Erdogan wants a fresh start with Germany. This is an opportunity," the Sueddeutsche Zeitung said, urging Merkel to push Ankara to end its repressive tactics and free the five remaining German-Turkish nationals considered political prisoners by Berlin.

"But we can't just forget everything that happened. It could take years to rebuild trust," it added.

Relations between the two NATO countries plummeted after Turkish authorities arrested tens of thousands of people in a mass purge over the attempted putsch against Erdogan.

But a gradual rapprochement began after German-Turkish journalist Deniz Yucel was freed earlier this year. He still face terror-related charges in Turkey however.

Huge Turkish community

Germany is home to a three-million strong Turkish community and observers said Merkel now faced the delicate balancing act of accepting Erdogan's outstretched hand - without glossing over their disagreements.

Erdogan for his part said he would use his trip to urge Germany to show "the necessary support" in fighting the fight against "terrorist groups" like the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) and the movement of Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen, whom Ankara blames for the coup.

Turkey's stalled EU membership bid and its role in the conflict in Syria are likewise expected to be on the agenda.

President Erdogan and his wife Emine arriving in Berlin. Photo: DPA

In terms of economic cooperation, Der Spiegel weekly reported that German conglomerate Siemens was in talks to lead a potentially 35-billion-euro deal to modernise Turkey's rail infrastructure.

In a sign of the contentious nature of the visit, several opposition politicians have vowed to boycott Friday's state dinner in Erdogan's honour.

Merkel too will be absent, although her office insists it's not out of the ordinary for her to skip such events.

Merkel and Erdogan are scheduled to hold a second round of talks on Saturday.

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