More than 20,000 people have taken part in a protest against the Turkish prime minister in Germany. They were undeterred by the fact that Recep Tayyip Erdogan canceled his appearance to collect an award for tolerance.
Police said around 22,000 people participated in a protest march against Turkish premier Recep Tayyip Erdogan in the western German city of Bochum.
Alevi Muslims made up the majority of the demonstrators as they protested against oppression of minorities in Turkey, according to police. The Alevi, who believe in a distinct form of Shi'ite Islam, primarily live in Turkey.
"We do not feel like we are represented by Erdogan," the secretary general of the Alevi community in Germany, Ali Dogan told news agency DPA. He is a full-fledged anti-democrat who should not receive any prize for humanity and straightforwardness."
Hundreds of Kurds and Armenians also protested.
The demonstration was meant to coincide with Erdogan's visit to the city to receive the Steiger Award for tolerance. However, the awards' organizers announced earlier on Saturday that Erdogan had canceled his evening appearance due to a Turkish helicopter crash in Afghanistan that killed 17 people.
The Steiger Award stems from a private initiative and honors personalities for tolerance, humanity and a record of social advancement. Now in its seventh year, the current laureates include Sweden's Queen Silvia, former German President Horst Köhler, fashion designer Wolfgang Joop and rock musician Lou Reed.
Erdogan was due to collect the award as a representative of the Turkish people in honor of 50 years of Turkish-German friendship.
'Opposite of tolerance'
Conservative and Green politicians had on Friday criticized presenting the award to Erdogan.
The secretary general of the CSU, the Bavarian sister party to Chancellor Angela Merkel's Christian Democrats, Alexander Dobrindt, described bestowing the award on Erdogan as "tasteless" and "bizarre."
"The gross opposite of tolerance prevails in Erdogan's country, namely repression of religious and ethnic minorities, insufficient press freedom and an absence of equal opportunities for women," Dobrindt said.
Green party spokesman Memet Kilic said Erdogan neither promoted improved ties with Europe "nor tolerance and religious freedoms."
The German journalists' association DJV was also critical. Erdogan carried "the political responsibility for permanent violations of press freedom in Turkey, for reprisals against journalists critical of the government and for arbitrary arrests of reporters," said DJV head Michael Konken on Freitag in Berlin. Honoring Erdogan amounted to ignoring the fundamental right to freedom of expression, he added.
The organizers said the Steiger Awards ceremony would still be held on Saturday despite Erdogan's absence.
ncy/ng (Reuters, epd, dpa, AFP)