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Turkish PM says Merkel talk 'productive,' but spat goes on

Turkey's prime minister said a call with the German chancellor went well. But tension remains between Berlin and Ankara after canceled Turkish rallies in Germany - one minister, however, found a venue for his speech.

Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim said a phone conversation with German Chancellor Angela Merkel had been "good and productive," but he also derided the decisions taken this week by two German towns to block rallies with Turkish ministers ahead of an April referendum in Turkey. He called on Berlin to reconsider the decisions.

Turkish Justice Minister Bekir Bozdag was due to speak in Gaggenau in western Germany on Thursday but his speech was canceled, while the town of Frechen on the outskirts of Cologne scrapped a rally that had been scheduled for Sunday.

Turkish Economy Minister Nihat Zeybekci, whose had been set to speak in Frechen, will instead deliver his remarks Sunday at a private event in Cologne, the daily "Kölner Stadt-Anzeiger" reported on Saturday. He will reportedly be at a private event at the Senats Hotel near the city's famed cathedral.

Watch video 02:14

From Yucel to Gaggenau: Increasing tensions between Germany and Turkey

More than a million Turks living in Germany are eligible to vote in the April referendum. Germany is home to the largest population of Turks outside Turkey with around 3 million, a legacy of the "guest worker" program of the 1960s-70s.

The Turkish public will vote in April on whether to approve constitutional changes that would expand the role of the president and remove the office of the premier.

Ankara up in arms

"This is a very unfortunate decision against democracy and freedoms," Yildirim told a rally in Kirsehir, in central Turkey, on Saturday, according to Turkish news service Anadolu Agency.

"Our citizens in Germany, in the face of this attitude, will even more enthusiastically vote 'Yes.' They will give a lesson in democracy to the whole word," he said to the crowd of supporters.

"Mrs. Merkel says [Germans] respect freedom of expression; the foreign minister says we have no impact on this decision, but if you look carefully at both, they do not criticize the decision of the German towns," Bozdag said on Saturday.

Merkel holds firm

Merkel has defended the decision made by local officials and questioned whether basic freedoms were being upheld in Turkey.

Watch video 02:17

Turkey tells Germany: 'Learn how to behave'

"The decision was taken by municipalities, and as a matter of principle, we apply freedom of expression in Germany," Merkel said on Friday.

Jürgen Hardt, foreign policy spokesman for Merkel's Christian Democratic Union, told Reuters news agency, "We don't want marketing for the undemocratic and illegitimate Turkish referendum on German soil."

Turkey is under a strict state of emergency since a coup attempt last year, limiting public gatherings by the opposition ahead of the referendum and MPs from a pro-Kurdish party have been jailed in recent months on terror-related charges.

Over 140 journalists are also jailed in Turkey, including Deniz Yucel, a correspondent for Germany's "Die Welt" newspaper. Erdogan on Friday evening called Yucel a "German agent" and a representative of the armed Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK).

German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel and his Turkish counterpart, Mevlut Cavusoglu, are to meet next week in Germany, in a bid to calm tensions, Yildirim said.

The Netherlands holds out

Cavusoglu, meanwhile, vowed on Saturday to meet with Turkish expatriates in the Netherlands, despite a Dutch decision to ban a rally planned in Rotterdam next week.

"Where we want to go we will go, we will meet our citizens, we will hold our meetings," Cavusoglu was quoted as saying by Anadolu Agency.

Cavusoglu also threatened retaliation. One of the towns that canceled a rally - Gaggenau - received a bomb threat to its town hall early on Friday. No explosives were found in a search of the building.

Austria not far behind

Markus Wallner, premier of the Austrian state of Vorarlberg, announced he would not allow any Turkish rallies there, although none had been planned. "It can't be that you blithely campaign abroad for a very controversial constitutional referendum. We're not an outpost for Turkey," he said.

Watch video 00:58

Erdogan accuses Germany of aiding terrorism

jbh/sms (AFP, dpa, Reuters)

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