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President Steinmeier welcomes Berlin's tough talk on Turkey's Erdogan and AKP

Germany's president has spoken approvingly of government statements against Turkey. The foreign minister has assured the nearly 3 million people of Turkish heritage in Germany that the tough stance does not affect them.

In an interview set for broadcast Sunday, President Frank-Walter Steinmeier criticized his Turkish counterpart, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, and welcomed the German government's harsher stance toward Erdogan's Justice and Development Party (AKP). Steinmeier's words came less than 72 hours after officials in Berlin announced a major shift in policy toward Turkey spurred by an Istanbul court's jailing of several rights activists - including the German national Peter Steudtner - and following a year of repression of opposition factions.

"Many - even those who in this state have worked with him and his party cooperatively in recent years - are now being persecuted," Steinmeier told the public broadcaster ZDF, referring to Erdogan and the AKP. "And we cannot tolerate that. It is also a question of the self-respect of our land to send a meaningful message to stop."

Steinmeier welcomed a letter from Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel to members of Germany's large Turkish diaspora community. He said he could understand how the 3 million people of Turkish heritage who live in the country - about half of whom hold German passports - could be startled by the increasingly hostile stance the governments have taken against one another.

Watch video 00:34

Germany-Turkey diplomatic row escalates

Relations between Germany and Turkey are at their lowest point in years. "This is really bitter," Steinmeier told ZDF, "and that's why a word to the Turkish-descended population was necessary."

A 'great treasure'

In an open letter published in German and Turkish in the mass-circulation newspaper Bild on Saturday, Gabriel wrote that the country fully welcomes the members of the diaspora community, describing the relationship as a "great treasure."  Like Steinmeier, Gokay Sofuoglu, the chairman of the Turkish Community in Germany, welcomed Gabriel's conciliatory words.

"We must not let ourselves be driven apart here in Germany," Sofuoglu told the Sunday edition of the newspaper Welt. "People with Turkish roots need to focus on Germany."

Merkel chief of staff slams Turkey

Chieft of staff Peter Altmaier (picture-alliance/dpa/W. Borrs/NDR)

Peter Altmaier says Germany wants close relations with Turkey but that its recent behavior was unacceptable.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel's chief of staff said on Sunday that Turkey's behavior was "unacceptable" and that Germany had a duty to protect its citizens and companies.

"We want to have good relations with this big and important country but that's only possible if Turkey is and remains a state under the rule of law," Peter Altmaier told newspaper Bild am Sonntag.

"Turkey's behavior is unacceptable," Altmaier said in response to Turkey barring German lawmakers from visiting soldiers at a base in Turkey, the arrest of Germans and Erdogan's recent comments on Germany.

Ministers protest detention

On Friday, Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble compared Turkey's detention of the six rights activists, including Steudtner, on trumped-up terror charges to repression in the former East Germany.

The Foreign Ministry warned nationals in its latest travel warning earlier in the week that they could face arrest in Turkey. 

Horst Seehofer, the leader of Bavaria's right-wing Christian Social Union (CSU), has called for cutting financial aid to Turkey, as has the Social Democratic Party's chancellor candidate, Martin Schulz.

Watch video 12:04

World Stories - Failed coup - Erdogan divides Turks

mkg/jm (Reuters, AFP, epd, dpa)

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