BERLIN (Reuters) – President Tayyip Erdogan, on the eve of a visit to Germany, urged it to designate as a terrorist organisation the Fethullah Gulen movement, which Turkey blames for a 2016 coup attempt.
Germany has previously rejected this request, saying it needs more proof linking the network of supporters of the U.S.-based cleric, which Turkey labels the Gulenist Terrorist Organisation (FETO), to the failed attempt to overthrow the Turkish government.
“Our primary expectation from the federal republic (of Germany) is that it recognise FETO as responsible for the attempted putsch, just as Britain did,” Erdogan wrote on Wednesday on the website of the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung newspaper.
Relations between Ankara and Berlin have been badly strained by a crackdown in Turkey after the failed coup in which dozens of Germans were imprisoned.
“We are pursuing the goal of increasing our trade and economic ties,” Erdogan wrote. “For the sake of prosperity and the future of both our countries, let us increase our mutual interests and reduce our problems.”
After years of breakneck growth, Turkey is in crisis, its heavy foreign debt load increased by the Turkish lira‘s 40 percent slide this year – a sell-off that intensified after President Donald Trump imposed sanctions in retaliation for the detention of a U.S. pastor.
Germany is home to three million people of Turkish ethnic background. Ankara is angry with Berlin for giving asylum to alleged coup plotters, while German authorities fret over Erdogan’s influence over Germany’s Turks.
Officials have warned Erdogan against campaigning overtly when he opens a mosque on Saturday in Cologne, home to one of Germany’s largest Turkish communities.
Germany and the European Union rely on Turkey to stem the flow of Syrian war refugees to prevent a repeat of events of 2015, when a million migrants arrived in Germany, convulsing European politics and weakening Merkel.
“He needs money, and he hopes to get it from Germany,” said former Greens leader Cem Ozdemir, a critic of Erdogan who, as Germany’s most prominent politician of Turkish background, is regularly demonised in Turkish pro-government media.
“We should use that to speak up for the many people rotting in Turkish prisons just for disagreeing with Erdogan,” he added in an interview with public broadcaster SWR.
The expected announcement in Nyon, Switzerland, on Thursday of which of the two soccer-mad nations gets to host the 2024 UEFA championships will be the least of diplomats’ concerns.
Erdogan plans meetings with Merkel on each of the three days of the visit, but both countries’ officials have said financial aid for the crisis-hit economy is not on the agenda. Berlin deflects concerns about granting Erdogan a state visit by insisting human rights will be high on the agenda.
Many senior politicians, including Merkel, are staying away from the banquet President Frank-Walter Steinmeier is giving in his honour on Friday. But Ozdemir will be there, hoping to send a message.
“Erdogan has to face the fact that opposition is part of politics in Germany, and not thrown into prison or silenced like in Turkey,” he told Die Welt in an interview.