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Controversy over pro-Erdogan rally

Dagmar BreitenbachJuly 27, 2016

The German city of Cologne is bracing for a major demonstration Sunday in support of Turkey's president, as well as anti-Erdogan protests. The rallies come in the wake of the failed military coup in Turkey.

huge Erdogan flag Copyright: Reuters/B. Ratner
Image: Reuters/B. Ratner

"Why is this demonstration being permitted?" reads a headline on the Cologne police website.

That's a question quite a few citizens are asking these days with regard to a huge protest called by the Union of European-Turkish Democrats (UETD) - supporters of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan - as well as a flurry of smaller rival anti-Erdogan demonstrations, at least five in all.

In our democracy, everyone has the right to gather peacefully and without weapons, the Cologne police statement explains. "Practicing this basic right isn't linked to political contents or certain ideologies."

It's not up to the police to approve or authorize demonstrations, the statement continues, but to ensure that people can exercise their right of assembly. Banning a protest is only an option in exceptional cases.

Concerning the rally planned for July 31 on the site of the city's Deutzer Wharf, the police warn that no one can predict how a protest will go, but that they are prepared to take action against any kind of violence.

'Stop this lunacy'

About 2,000 police from all over the country will be securing the area on Sunday, including officers who speak Turkish and can intervene if necessary. Some 15,000 protesters are expected to turn up for the rallies.

Germany is home to about three million Turks or people of Turkish origin. Ahead of the Turkish presidential vote in 2014, tens of thousands rallied for Erdogan at his pre-election visit to Germany.

Cologne citizens have meanwhile been urging the city to "stop this lunacy." Letters to the editor in the local "Kölner Stadt-Anzeiger" newspaper on Wednesday voiced fears that the freedom of assembly is being misused, and outrage that "a demonstration for dictator Erdogan is being allowed to go ahead - a man who made sure that in Turkey, the judiciary will only do his bidding." Some readers are aghast that the rally was approved in the first place: "We can't have people spreading propaganda for foreign rulers in Germany."

A constitutional right

Citizens may very well see such a demonstration as problematic, but that shouldn't lead them to consider a restriction of Germany's freedom of assembly, Felix Butzlaff of the Göttingen Institute for Democracy Research told DW.

Protest poster against Erdogan visit in Cologne in 2014 Copyright: picture-alliance/dpa
Opponents rallied , too, ahead of Erdogan's campaign speech in Cologne in 2014Image: picture-alliance/dpa

A focus on foreign political leaders in German rallies isn't a new development either, he argued, pointing out protests against the Vietnam War in the 1970s, and Barack Obama's widely-broadcast visit to Berlin even before he was elected president.

Concerned, however, that intra-Turkish tensions may be playing out in Germany, conservative German politicians in particular have taken a clear stance.

"Turkish domestic politics have no right to be on German soil," said Andreas Scheuer, Secretary General of the Christian Social Union (CSU), adding that people who want to get involved in Turkish domestic politics are welcome to leave Germany and return to Turkey.

Do not carry out domestic Turkish conflicts in your chosen home of North-Rhine Westphalia, state governor Hannelore Kraft urged. Everyone has the right to take to the streets for his or her convictions, she added, but "please be level-headed and above all peaceful."