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Turkey's prime minister campaigns in Germany for Turkish constitutional referendum

Turkish Prime Minister Yildirim told a crowd in Germany that Turkey will not be intimidated by the West. His speech came as Ankara rallies support for a controversial referendum on centralizing presidential power.

Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim spoke to a crowd of more than 10,000 Turks and Turkish Germans in the western city of Oberhausen on Saturday. He addressed the voters as Ankara vies to whip up support for April's constitutional referendum on expanding the powers of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

"I want you to carry your passport for the Republic of Turkey and your identity with pride," he said.

"The era when some could give lessons to Turkey is over. Turkey is not a country that will be intimidated," he added, referencing the increasing mountain of criticism being heaped on Erdogan from the West, where many have accused him of trying to lay the foundations for a dictatorship.

The Turkish president has used a failed coup attempt in July to detain opposition politicians and journalists, as well as to fire tens of thousands of civil servants and military employees.

"I find it shocking that a Turkish prime minister has no qualms about taking advantage of our democracy while he and his henchmen make their opponents disappear behind bars," said Green party leader Cem Özdemir, the son of Turkish immigrants, in an interview with the "Kölner Stadt-Anzeiger" newspaper. 

Özdemir was not the only German politician who viewed the event with skepticism. Integration and Immigration Commissioner Aydan Özuguz accused Yildirim of "provoking a tension that could make the divide among Turkish citizens living in Germany deeper."

As Ankara has relaxed restrictions on overseas voters in recent years, Germany has become an important stop for political campaigning due to its substantial Turkish diaspora living there. There are some 1.4 million registered Turkish voters across Germany, with a high concentration in the Ruhr valley, where Oberhausen is located.

"Those who love their country vote 'yes,'" was Yildirim's key point on Saturday. As he spoke, around 800 demonstrators gathered outside the event to protest Turkey's creeping authoritarianism.

Merkel presses Yildirim on detained journalist

Earlier that day, German Chancellor Angela Merkel spoke to Yildirim on the sidelines of the Munich Security Conference. The chancellor is one of many German lawmakers who was aghast at the news that Turkish-German dual citizen Deniz Yücel, a reporter for German daily Die Welt, was detained by authorities in Turkey on Friday.

According to government spokesman Steffen Seibert, Merkel pressed Yildirim on fair treatment for Yücel, who has been charged with being part of a terrorist organization. The prime minister told Merkel that the incident was regrettable, but that the West should not be fooled by "negative propaganda" bent on demonizing the Turkish government.

es/sms (AFP, dpa)

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