Turkish President Erdoğan lands in Berlin for controversial state visit

Turkish Recep Tayyip Erdoğan arrived in Germany on Thursday for a three-day state visit, with several demonstrations planned around Berlin as Erdoğan prepares for a state banquet and a mosque opening in Cologne, according to a report by Deutsche Welle (DW).

Erdoğan landed at Berlin’s Tegel Airport around midday on Thursday to begin a controversial visit with full state honors while thousands of demonstrators got ready to express their anger at his authoritarian rule.

Large parts of central Berlin were shut down for the visit, partly to provide a security cordon around the chancellery, the president’s Bellevue Palace and the historic Adlon Hotel, where Erdoğan and his entourage are staying, and partly to make space for several major demonstrations. The nature of the protests reflects the many human rights issues that Erdoğan’s long-term rule in Turkey has produced.

Organizations representing journalists and various minorities in Turkey, including Kurds and Alevis, have called protests, while an alliance of left-wing organizations is staging a march through the city titled “Erdoğan Not Welcome,” at which 10,000 people are expected.

The alliance called on all democrats to join the rallies in Berlin and Cologne. “A dictator will come to Berlin –- and will be welcomed with full honors,” it said, adding: “Erdogan will ask for German support regarding his war politics –- again. Once more, there will be weapons deals, approved loans and investment in the Turkish economy. The visit of the German minister for economy, including his 80 companies, at the end of October, suits the picture. Erdoğan‘s visit to Berlin gives reason to protest to those who fight for democracy, freedom and peace all over the world.”

The call continued: “Thousands of HDP members are in Turkish prisons as are hundreds of journalists and tens of thousands of political activists. Curfews and the prohibition of demonstrations as well as ongoing military operations are daily phenomena in the southeast of Turkey. There are hundreds of thousands of people seeking refuge because of the continuous military operations.”

The alliance also said: “We are suffering from the dictatorship of Erdoğan in Germany, too. The Turkish secret service MİT is threatening political activists with assassinations. DİTİB uses its almost 1,000 mosques and even children to spread nationalist war propaganda.”

Meanwhile the German Federation of Journalists and Amnesty International also said they would hold a joint rally in Berlin to protest Erdoğan’s visit. The head of the German Federation of Journalists (DJV) said the Turkish president’s visit to Germany is a “slap in the face.” The rally has been promoted by Amnesty International, Reporters Without Borders and the German Journalists’ Union (DJU).

German Chancellor Angela Merkel and President Frank-Walter Steinmeier had effectively conceded that the “abolition of press freedom is a purely Turkish affair that has no bearing on relations with Germany,” DJV chief Frank Überall said about the head of state’s decision to meet with the Turkish president.

More controversy arose after the pro-Erdoğan Turkish-Islamic organization DİTİB confirmed that the Turkish president would open the new central mosque in Cologne, the country’s largest. However, embassy spokesperson Refik Soğukoğlu told the DPA news agency that “a major speech was not planned” as part of the opening ceremony. The Berlin demonstration will be on Friday the 28th, while the rally in Cologne will be on Saturday the 29th.

During the course of the three-day trip, Erdoğan will have two meetings and a joint press conference with German Chancellor Merkel. He is set to receive military honors at Berlin’s Bellevue Palace, where he will be German President Steinmeier’s guest of honor at a state dinner on Friday evening.

Erdoğan is accompanied by four senior cabinet ministers as well as Hakan Fidan, the head of Turkey’s notorious National Intelligence Organization (MİT).

Several opposition politicians have announced they will be boycotting the state banquet. On Saturday, Erdoğan is due to open the new mosque in Cologne built by the pro-Erdoğan DİTİB. However, it was reported that the city’s mayor will not be attending into the opening ceremony on Saturday.

Henriette Reker, the mayor of Cologne, said with three days left, Turkish event organizers are yet to finalize the program plans and schedule.

The planning for the Cologne mosque began in 2009 and opened for service in 2017. An opening ceremony will take place during Erdoğan’s state visit to Germany. Five thousand people are expected to attend, DW reported.

Reker said she is disappointed the DİTİB did not make clear who they wanted to represent the Cologne municipality at the ceremony. The mayor had previously indicated she wanted to speak at the event. She said she “also sees herself as the mayor of Muslim Cologne residents,” DW reported. The president of the surrounding North Rhine-Westphalia state will also not attend.

Hundreds of thousands of people in Turkey have been the subject of legal proceedings in the last two years on charges of membership in the Gülen movement since a coup attempt on July 15, 2016, a Turkish Justice Ministry official told a symposium on July 19, 2018.

“Legal proceedings have been carried out against 445,000 members of this organization,” Turkey’s pro-government Islamist news agency İLKHA quoted Turkish Justice Ministry Deputy Undersecretary Ömer Faruk Aydıner as saying.

Turkey survived a controversial military coup attempt on July 15, 2016, that killed 249 people. Immediately after the putsch, the Justice and Development Party (AKP) government along with President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan pinned the blame on the Gülen movement.

Fethullah Gülen, who inspired the movement, strongly denied having any role in the failed coup and called for an international investigation into it, but President Erdoğan — calling the coup attempt “a gift from God” — and the government initiated a widespread purge aimed at cleansing sympathizers of the movement from within state institutions, dehumanizing its popular figures and putting them in custody.

Turkey has suspended or dismissed about 170,000 judges, teachers, police and civil servants since July 15, 2016. On December 13, 2017, the Justice Ministry announced that 169,013 people have been the subject of legal proceedings on coup charges since the failed coup.

Turkish Interior Minister Süleyman Soylu announced on April 18, 2018, that the Turkish government had jailed 77,081 people between July 15, 2016, and April 11, 2018, over alleged links to the Gülen movement.

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