Germany hopeful of better Turkey ties after releases: FM Gabriel

Germany hopeful of better Turkey ties after releases: FM Gabriel

BERLIN - Reuters
Germany hopeful of better Turkey ties after releases: FM Gabriel

German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel has said Turkey’s decision to release a sixth German citizen from jail on Dec. 21 gave hope that relations between the two NATO allies could improve after plumbing new lows following last year’s failed coup attempt.

The decision to allow pilgrim David Britsch to return to Germany follows the release earlier this week of German journalist Meşale Tolu after nearly eight months in prison.

“Decisions such as these give hope that we can rebuild trust step by step and relax the bilateral relationship,” Gabriel said in a statement released late on Dec. 21.

Gabriel said he had agreed with his Turkish counterpart Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu to continue talks given the “difficult issues” that still had to be resolved. Germany is home to some 3 million people of Turkish heritage.

“Following recent rulings in Turkey, six persons have now been released from prisons or allowed to leave,” Gabriel said.

“And in the case of the imprisoned journalist Deniz Yücel, the Turkish judiciary has at least made the conditions for detention easier. The next urgent step here is the presentation of an indictment.”

The releases come two weeks after German federal prosecutors dropped an investigation against a dozen imams who were suspected of spying in Germany on behalf of the Turkish government.

Tolu was charged with being a member of a terrorist organization and publishing terrorist propaganda following the July 2016 coup attempt. She was released on the condition that she does not leave the country.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel welcomed on Dec. 18 an Istanbul court’s decision to release Tolu pending trial.

Speaking at a news conference in Berlin, Merkel said the ruling was “good news,” but she also urged caution and stressed that the trial was not over.

As Turkish authorities have expanded their anti-terrorism operations in recent months, around a dozen German citizens have been arrested on suspicion of aiding and abetting terrorist organizations, according to Turkey’s state-run Anadolu Agency.

Most of them were German citizens with a Turkish background and several, like Die Welt reporter Yücel, have had dual German-Turkish citizenships.

Despite repeated calls by German politicians for the release of these suspects, the Turkish government said it was ruling out exercising any political influence on the judiciary and called to wait for the courts’ decisions.

Ties between Ankara and Berlin have been strained since the defeated coup in Turkey last year as Turkish politicians criticized their German counterparts for failing to show strong solidarity with the government against the attempted military takeover.

Ankara also criticizes Berlin for turning a blind eye to outlawed groups like the network of Fethullah Gülen, the main suspect in cases into the July 15, 2016 attempt, along with the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and some outlawed leftist groups.

Solving problems between Germany and Turkey is in the interest of both sides, as officials continue to discuss concrete issues, a close aide of Chancellor Angela Merkel said on Dec. 14.

Peter Altmaier, a senior conservative politician who heads the Federal Chancellery and serves as the federal minister for special tasks, made the remarks during a visit to the Turkish Embassy in Berlin.

“2017 has been a difficult year for German-Turkish relations. Now we are talking and discussing very concrete issues with our counterparts,” said Altmaier.

Relations between Turkey and Germany were strained earlier this year over President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s wish to address Turkish citizens in the European powerhouse ahead of the April 16 constitutional referendum.

The EU’s insistence on Turkey to change its anti-terror law to benefit a lingering visa-free travel deal is also a source of the tensions between Ankara and Berlin.

Turkey is willing to solve a “trust problem” with the European Union, Turkey’s EU Ministry Undersecretary Ambassador Selim Yenel had said in Paris on Dec. 20.