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Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 19 June 2018

Turkey accuses Germany of 'great political irresponsibility'

Germany's foreign minister returned from holiday early to deliver an unusually strong rebuke towards Turkish president. 

German human rights campaigner Peter Steudtner, who was detained along with nine others during a workshop on the Prince Islands in Turkey.  Private photo via AP
German human rights campaigner Peter Steudtner, who was detained along with nine others during a workshop on the Prince Islands in Turkey. Private photo via AP

ISTANBUL Turkey on Thursday accused Germany of displaying "great political irresponsibility" in stepping up a travel warning for the country after Berlin reacted angrily to the arrest of human rights activists.

"Sending a message... (to Germans) telling them that it's not safe to travel to Turkey is a great political irresponsibility," presidential spokesman Ibrahim Kalin said after Berlin warned it could no longer guarantee its citizens' safety in the country. "We do not accept this."

German foreign minister Sigmar Gabriel interrupted his holidays to return to Berlin after Turkey arrested six human rights activists including German national Peter Steudtner on accusations of terrorism. it was the latest in a spate of diplomatic rows. Germany says the allegations are absurd and Mr Gabriel delivered an unusually strong rebuke towards Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

He accused Mr Erdogan of trying to muzzle "every critical voice" with mass arrests - the latest being the detention of the human rights activists. Amnesty International's Turkey director Idil Eser is among them.

"Everyone can be affected. The most absurd things are possible," Mr Gabriel. His warning travellers highlights Berlin's alarm at the growing unpredictability of President Tayyip Erdogan. "We need our policies towards Turkey to go in a new direction...we can't continue as we have done."

Mr Erdogan cites the need for security after last year's failed coup as the reason for detaining 50,000 people and firing or suspending 150,000 more. Domestic and foreign critic, however, accuse him of using a state of emergency as cover to root out opposition.

Germany is also discouraging investment in Germany. "No one invests in a country...in which the judiciary has been degraded to be a helper of the ruling AKP party," said Juergen Hardt, a senior member of Chancellor Angela Merkel's governing CDU party.

Many companies have also been seized since the coup attempt on allegations of links to terrorism. for its part, Turkey has accused Berlin of supporting the man Ankara blames for orchestrating the coup , the US-based cleric, Fetullah Gulen, and of harbouring anti-Turkish "terrorists", including Turkish army officers seeking asylum in Germany.

Mr Erdogan's spokesman Ibrahim Kalin suggested Gabriel's remarks were intended to win votes at the national elections in two month' time. "They need to rid themselves of this abdication of reason and think rationally."

The warnings to private as well as business travellers could deal a significant blow to the tourism industry. So far this year, bookings from Germany have accounted for some 10 percent of Turkey's tourists.

"Until now there was guidance for certain groups but we're saying that now applies to all German citizens, not just for those with certain jobs," Mr Gabriel said.

In its new guidance, the foreign ministry said: "People who are travelling to Turkey...are urged to exercise increased caution, and should register with German consulates and the embassy, even for shorter visits."

Last year, the number of foreign visitors to Turkey fell to 25.4 million amid a spate of bombings by Kurdish and Islamist militants, the lowest in nine years. The travel sector contributes some $30 billion to the economy in a normal year. In comments that threatened broader economic consequences, Mr Gabriel said he could not advise companies to invest in "a country without legal certainty (where) even completely innocent companies are judged as being close to terrorists". He added, "I can't see how we as the German government can continue to guarantee corporate investments in Turkey if there is the threat of arbitrary expropriation for political reasons. "

Mr Kalin rejected the suggestion that Germans travelling to Turkey or German investors faced any danger.

"It is also not acceptable to create doubts in the minds of German investors in Turkey. It is not possible for us to accept statements aiming to blur the economic environment based on political motivations, we hope they turn back from this."

On Wednesday, the newspaper Die Zeit reported that Turkish authorities had several weeks ago handed Berlin a list of 68 German companies they accused of having links to Mr Gulen. The list included chemicals giant BASF BASFn.DE, which confirmed it was on a list that had been passed to it by German police, but declined to comment on the allegations.

On Thursday, the Turkish deputy prime minister Mehmet Simsek said the reports were untrue.

Germany was Turkey's top export destination in 2016, buying $14 billion worth of Turkish exports, according to IMF statistics. It was also the second biggest source of Turkish imports, at $21.5 billion. Only China, at $25.4 billion, exported more to Turkey.