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Third German town cancels Turkish referendum rally amid Yucel spat

Frechen has become the third German town in two days to cancel a rally by a Turkish government minister. The move threatens to worsen a dispute between Ankara and Berlin over the arrest of journalist Deniz Yucel.

German police confirmed on Friday that a Turkish referendum rally, due to take place on Sunday in Frechen, on the outskirts of Cologne, would be scrapped as "the contract between the owner of the event hall and the organizer excludes political events."

Turkish Minister for Economic Affairs, Nihat Zeybekci, was set to lead the rally where he hoped to garner the support of German-Turks  ahead of a controversial referendum taking place on April 16.

Watch video 02:17

Canceled rally leads to pointed fingers

A "yes" vote would expand Erdogan's powers as president, with critics warning that the new presidential system would cement one-man rule in the country. Of the more than 3 million people of Turkish descent living in Germany, some 1.4 million are eligible to vote next month.

#FreeDeniz

Following the controversial arrest of German-Turkish journalist Deniz Yucel by Turkish authorities, the presence of Turkish politicians in Germany has caused a stir in recent days, with two other cities having also already canceled similar rallies. 

The small southwestern German town of Gaggenau withdrew permission for an event with the Turkish Minister of Justice Bekir Bozdag on Thursday, saying that the hall where the rally was supposed to take place was too small to accommodate the expected crowd.

Bozdag called the city's decision "unacceptable" and canceled a planned meeting with German Justice Minister Heiko Maas in Karlsruhe in protest.

Bomb threat

Hours later, Cologne-Porz followed suit, saying that the rally - also due to be led by Zeybekci - would not take place.

Watch video 25:59

Quadriga - Erdogan’s Turkey: End of Press Freedom?

"There is no rental agreement for the event on March 5 and there won't be one," a spokeswoman for Cologne city authorities said. 

On Friday, Gaggenau city hall - where Bozdag had been due to speak the previous evening - was evacuated after authorities received a bomb threat. A thorough search of the building, however, found no explosives.

Warning from Ankara

In light of the cancellations, Turkey's Foreign Ministry summoned Germany's ambassador to express the government's disapproval. Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu accused Germany of double standards, saying that Ankara would not be "intimidated."

Germany "gives lectures on democracy," but then implements double standards on freedom of speech and assembly, Cavusoglu said. Referencing a Kurdish rally in Cologne last year, he accused Berlin of allowing the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) to organize in Germany.

"If you want to continue relations, you [Germany] need to learn how to behave towards us. We will respond without hesitation," Cavusoglu said without providing details on what actions Ankara might take.

Deniz Yucel

Deniz Yucel was arrested two weeks ago on terrorism-related charges

'Bitter and disappointing'

The ongoing dispute over Yucel's detainment is just the latest in a flurry of issues straining ties between Turkey and Germany. These range from Turkey's crackdown on civil society after last July's failed coup, through alleged orders for Turkish authorities to spy in German schools, Turkey's conflict with Kurds in the south and east, the German parliament's decision last year to dub the World War I-era deaths of Armenians in the Ottoman Empire as "genocide," and the continual tension between Ankara and Berlin - particularly over Turkey's large diaspora in Germany.

Yucel, a journalist for the German newspaper "Die Welt," 

was detained by Turkish authorities on February 14. The 43-year-old, who has penned several articles critical of the Turkish government's treatment of ethnic Kurds, has been in jail ever since, pending his trial on terrorism-related charges.

His arrestprompted public demonstrations and uproar among politicians and fellow journalists, with Chancellor Angela Merkel describing his detainment as "bitter and disappointing."

ksb/msh (AFP, dpa)

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