Turkey's Erdogan hails 'successful' Germany trip, despite tensions

BERLIN, Carsten Hoffmann and Martin Oversohl (dpa)- Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan enthused about an "extremely successful" three-day state visit to Germany that ended on Saturday, despite the two countries' differences leading to some testy exchanges.
"We have made an extremely successful visit at a critical period," said the Turkish leader, who is a controversial figure in Germany, which is home to a large Turkish diaspora community.

"I believe our meetings for two days have cemented a long-established Turkish-German friendship," he said in a speech at the opening ceremony for a mosque in Cologne.
Erdogan said he had used his visit as an opportunity to discuss how to tackle racism and xenophobia, while also meeting with business leaders to discuss potential investments.
Turkey and Germany "need to focus on joint interests, leaving aside some recent differences of opinion."
During his speech, Erdogan also called for better integration of the some 3 million people of Turkish origin living in Germany and called for the reintroduction of dual citizenship.
At a tense banquet with German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier on Friday, the Turkish leader caused a stir by saying that the country is harbouring "hundreds, thousands" of terrorists.
In Cologne on Saturday, Erdogan said that Fethullah Gulen, a US-based preacher whom he blames for a failed military coup in July 2016, and his supporters "should not be able to take shelter in Europe."
He arrived in Cologne on Saturday afternoon for a brief visit to the city, before attending the official opening of the new Central Mosque.
The mosque is run by DITIB, a Turkish-German Islamic umbrella association that has come under fire for being too close to Erdogan, who has been criticized by the German government for his increasingly authoritarian leadership style.
DITIB does community work and offers training for imams, and receives funds from Ankara.
Cologne's police force said that it had mounted one of the largest operations in its history to secure the events on Saturday.
German-Turkish relations are currently "overshadowed" by rule-of-law concerns and those must be addressed if Erdogan wants to deepen economic ties with Germany, said Armin Laschet, state premier of North Rhine Westphalia, after meeting with the Turkish leader.
Security concerns and political disagreements had forced several last-minute changes to Erdogan's schedule on Saturday, the final day of his state visit to Germany.
A meeting between Erdogan and Laschet was hastily rescheduled to take place at Cologne/Bonn airport after a planned meeting at Wahn castle was scrubbed because the site's owner said Erdogan was not welcome for political reasons.
Plans for a large open-air event at the mosque were cancelled late Friday by the city of Cologne, which cited security concerns.
In a statement published on Saturday on Facebook, DITIB expressed disappointment at the city's decision, stating that it opposed the move and "could not comprehend" the reasoning behind it.
DITIB's Facebook event for Erdogan's visit showed up to 25,000 expected visitors, which had led local authorities to seek assurances about key safety concerns such as escape routes and access for paramedics.
"The police have set objectively impossible targets, but have told the public the opposite," Mustafa Yeneroglu, a Turkish parliamentarian and prominent member of Erdogan's delegation, said of the security measures.
"Turkey is constantly criticized for curtailing freedom of assembly, among other things," said Yeneroglu, adding that he was "bitter."
Meanwhile, a rally against Erdogan's visit in Cologne had gathered significantly fewer people than expected on Saturday, with dpa estimating some 1,000 people demonstrating instead of the predicted 10,000.
The Administrative Court of Cologne on Friday confirmed that police had prohibited protest organizers from marching through the city, as they had originally wished. The city-sanctioned protest location was far from the mosque opening.

Sunday, September 30th 2018
Carsten Hoffmann and Martin Oversohl

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