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Turkey allows German defense minister visit after air base row

Turkey has agreed to allow German Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen to travel to the Incirlik air base in Turkey to meet German troops there. Ankara had earlier barred a German delegation from making the same trip.

Turkey's prime minister Binali Yildirim said at a news conference in Ankara that his country would allow Germany's defense minister Ursula von der Leyen to visit an air base where 240 German troops are stationed. The announcement came just days after a German deputy defense minister and lawmakers were denied a similar visit.

"The German defense minister can visit Incirlik with ease. There is no problem," Yildirim told journalists in Ankara.

Von der Leyen had announced earlier that she would visit the troops regardless of Turkey's ban, adding that she had "never experienced anything like this."

"It goes without saying that the leadership of the defence ministry should be able to visit German soldiers in the field," von der Leyen had told the Sunday edition of the daily Bild newspaper. She added that she would use her visit "to explain to Turkey what it means to have a military under parliamentary control."

Diplomatic spat

Ankara had denied a German parliamentary delegation access to the military facility earlier in June, with Turkey's Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu saying that "the visit of non-military delegations and especially of politicians to the base is not seen as suitable."

Armenian genocide

German media reports said that Turkey's decision to ban diplomats from visiting Incirlik was a reaction to the vote in the Bundestag recognizing the events of 1915 as genocide.

Turkey's protest against the visit came as relations between Berlin and Ankara hit a low following a near unanimous vote in the Bundestag, Germany's lower house of parliament, to label the 1915 mass killings of Armenians as genocide.

Turkey rejects the use of the term "genocide" to describe the massacre of Armenians at the hands of the Ottoman Empire, of which Turkey is the successor state. Instead, it wants historians to examine official documents to determine the course of events in 1915 and 1916 as opposed to parliaments voting on the issue.

German media reported that the ban on German diplomats visiting the base was in retaliation for the recognition of the genocide. Turkish officials did not confirm this.

Germany's presence in the Middle East

A German defense ministry spokesman declined to provide further details on von der Leyen's travel plans. However, German MPs earlier called on the government to consider alternative locations for the country's Tornado jets and stop investing taxpayers' money in the expansion of the base.

Germany has around 240 troops and several Tornado jets stationed at the military base at Incirlik, a strategically important site in southern Turkey for the US-led air campaign against the self-styled "Islamic State" (IS) extremist group in Iraq and Syria.

sm,ss/jlw,kl (AFP, AP, dpa)

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