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German-Turkish leaders alarmed by Yildirim speech in Oberhausen

Leaders in Germany's Turkish community warned their compatriots not to be taken in by populist rhetoric. The Turkish PM was in Germany to encourage overseas voters to support a referendum to centralize power in Ankara.

The leader of the influential Turkish Community in Germany (TGD) slammed Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim's speech in the western city of Oberhausen, saying on Sunday that it was part of a sinister campaign to demonize opposition voices and promote autocracy.

Yildirim was in the town, which has a high concentration of eligible overseas voters, on Saturday to stir up support for a controversial constitutional referendum that would see the powers of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan greatly expanded.

In a highly patriotic speech, Yildirim told some 10,000 Turks and Turkish Germans gathered in Oberhausen that "Turkey is not a country that will be intimidated." While several hundred protestors demonstrated against him outside the venue, he asked the cheering crowd: "Are you for a great Turkey? A strong Turkey…then give an answer that all of Europe, all the world can hear!"

Maas calls out Yildirim's hypocrisy

TGD chairmain Gökay Sofuoglu said he viewed the stunt with dismay. "The Turkish government is engaged in a campaign of denouncing all opponents of the reform as enemies of the state or terrorists," he told the Funke Mediengruppe, a consortium of regional newspapers.

"I call on the Turks in Germany to engage critically with the planned reform in Turkey and when doing so to take German democracy and its constitution as an example," he added, in a sharp contrast to Yildirim's attempts to capitalize on the perceived arrogance of the West towards other countries.

Deutschland Türkei Oberhausen Auftritt Ministerpräsident Binali Yildirim (Getty Images/AFP/S. Schuermann)

Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim in Oberhausen

Sofuoglu admitted, however, that in a democracy, people had a right to hear Yildirim's views, but cautioned that he represented "an autocracy" that was rapidly growing in Ankara. His sentiments were echoed by several prominent Turkish-German politicians, including Green party leader Cem Özdemir and federal Commissioner for Immigration, Refugees and Integration Aydan Özoguz.

German Justice Minister Heiko Maas was also critical of the event, especially in light of the recent arrest of German-Turkish journalist Deniz Yücel on terrorism charges.

"Whoever demands the right to free speech from us, should also respect the rule of law and freedom of the press," Maas said.

es/sms (AFP, EPD)