Foreign Minister Maas: Germany ready for protests against Turkish president’s visit

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s scheduled visit to Germany this month may spark protests, but that is a democratic right, German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said in an interview with the German DPA news agency.

Erdoğan is set to visit Berlin Sept. 28-29, where he will attend a reception with military honors, a state banquet with Federal President Frank-Walter Steinmeier and hold talks with German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

The visit comes following years of heightened tensions between the countries that peaked following a controversial coup attempt on July 15, 2016, and the year-long detention of German Die Welt reporter Deniz Yücel.

“It is of strategic importance for Germany that we constructively shape our relations with Turkey,” Maas said. “Turkey is more than a big neighbor, it is also an important partner of Germany.”

Critics of Erdoğan in Germany have been vocal about their concerns over the visit. Maas said the criticism was understandable but defended the visit. “The fact that a visit by President Erdoğan is publicly criticised and also leads to protests is part of the democratic reality in our country,” he said.

“The consequence of this cannot be that Mr. Erdoğan cannot come to Germany, on the contrary: There are many things that we have to discuss with each other,” Maas said, adding that the normalization of relations with Turkey was necessary due to the more than 3 million people of Turkish origin in Germany. “Domestic conflicts in Turkey can also very easily reach Germany, something we are not interested in and therefore we need a constructive relationship,” he said.

Meanwhile, Erdoğan has said he will speak to Turkish expatriates on the occasion of the mosque opening in Cologne during his state visit to Germany, the T24 news website reported on Monday.

“The Religious Affairs Directorate [Diyanet] has constructed a beautiful mosque in Cologne. We will, God willing, attend the inauguration of the mosque during the visit. The president [of North Rhine-Westphalia] will accompany us in Cologne. He is also vice president of the CDU [Christian Democratic Union]. I will give an address there,” Erdoğan told journalists on his jet while returning from Azerbaijan.

The Hürriyet daily on Friday reported that Erdoğan had requested approval from German authorities to address Turkish expatriates in Cologne.

In his speech, Erdoğan is expected to extend his thanks to the Turkish community for the votes he received from abroad in the general and presidential elections of June 24. The last time Erdoğan met with Turkish expatriates in Germany was in May 2015 when he attended a youth meeting held at the DM Arena in Karlsruhe.

His request to address Turks via teleconference during a pro-democracy meeting following the coup attempt, however, was denied by the German government for security reasons.

A survey published by the German Bild newspaper on Tuesday revealed that a large majority of Germans are opposed to the idea of Erdoğan delivering a speech during his visit. An earlier poll conducted on the heels of the announcement of the visit by the Die Welt newspaper had suggested that 69 percent of Germans did not even approve of the visit itself.

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