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Thousands of pro-Erdogan protesters rally in Cologne

Extra police have been deployed in the western German city Cologne ahead of a protest that's expected to draw up to 30,000 supporters of Turkish President Erdogan. Several counterdemonstrations have also been planned.

Authorities said some 2,700 officers, including Turkish speakers, were in place across the city to head off any clashes between opposing groups.

"One thing I want to make clear is that we will intervene against any kind of violence quickly, decisively and forcefully," Cologne police chief Jürgen Mathies said.

Crowds began to gather in the morning for the event, which kicked off at 3 p.m. local time (1300 UTC).

The Union of European-Turkish Democrats (UETD) called Sunday's demonstration to protest the failed coup staged by a section of Turkey's military on July 15 that left more than 250 people dead.

Map showing the various pro- and anti-Erdogan rallies

There were five main rallies taking place across the city of Cologne

The attempted putsch has stoked tensions between supporters and opponents of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan within Germany's 3 million-strong Turkish community.

Cologne police estimated 20,000 people had already gathered at the main pro-Erdogan rally in Deutz by 4 p.m. local time.

However, at least one rally near the city's central train station has been dispersed, according to the police.

Police later added that all rallies except for the one in Deutz ended by 6 p.m.

Erdogan banned

As well as the tens of thousands of pro-Erdogan protesters taking to the streets Sunday, police were bracing for at least four counterdemonstrations expected to attract 1,500 people each. A bid by police to prevent a far-right group from participating was rejected by a court in Münster late Saturday.

According to the UETD, representatives from different Turkish political parties, including the opposition, were scheduled to speak at the rally. Police said Turkey's sports minister was also expected to attend.

Organizers had also wanted to carry a live-stream video feed of Erdogan speaking from Turkey, but the head of a police issued a ban on such a broadcast, citing concerns it could cause the crowd to become overexcited.

Turkish presidential spokesman Ibrahim Kalin called the ban "unacceptable."

"The practical and legal effort to prevent an event that advocates democracy freedom and the rule of law and stands against the July 15 coup is a violation of the freedom of expression and the right to free assembly," Kalin said.

Frau mit Erdogan Plakat auf einer Demo in Berlin

Tens of thousands of people are expected to turn out to show their support for Erdogan following the failed coup

'Atmosphere of fear'

German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier urged demonstrators to display moderation.

"It is not right to bring Turkey's domestic political tensions here ... and intimidate people who have other political convictions," he told the Saturday edition of the "Süddeutsche Zeitung."

The leader of the German Greens, Cem Özdemir, also criticized alleged attempts at intimidation ahead of the demonstration, telling newspapers of the Funke media group that critics of Erdogan in Germany's Turkish community were being targeted.

"An atmosphere of fear must not be created," he said.

Gokay Sofuoglu, the chairman of the TGD Turkish community in Germany, said families were being torn apart by conflicting loyalties. Ahead of Sunday's planned protest, he said, "I can only call for moderation."

Continued crackdown

Erdogan's government has detained thousands of officials in the military, judiciary, media and civil service in the wake of the July 15 coup attempt, which it blames on US-based cleric Fethullah Gulen.

Western leaders have voiced alarm over the purges, and Erdogan's critics fear that he is using the coup as an excuse to consolidate his already tight grip on power.

Ahead of Sunday's march, Erdogan told foreign governments to keep out of Turkish affairs and "mind your own business."

ls,nm/jlw,rc (AFP, dpa, Reuters)

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