At a campaign event for his Social Democrats (SPD) on Tuesday, Sigmar Gabriel let loose onTurkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. "More than half the country is democratically minded," the foreign minister said. "They didn't support him. I believe that many in Turkey are counting on Europe and Germany supporting Turkish democracy and not looking on helplessly."
In recent months, relations have deteriorated sharply between Germany and Turkey, countries allied in their NATO partnership but increasingly in little else. For his part, Erdogan recently urged Germans of Turkish ancestry to boycott Gabriel's SPD and Chancellor Angela Merkel's Christian Democrats (CDU) - parties he described as "enemies of Turkey" - in September's Bundestag elections.
Erdogan made the issue more personal at the weekend when he said that Gabriel, foreign minister since early this year, was too junior to address Turkey's president, telling the top German diplomat to "know his limits."
In comments broadcast by news channel NTV, Gabriel said Erdogan's words "had apparently led some to feel motivated to try to threaten and harass my wife" in phone calls to the dental surgery where she works. "Of course, this is a terrible outcome," he said without giving further details.
'An intensive dialogue'
Erdogan has accused Germany of providing aid and comfort to disparate factions that oppose him, some of which he says participated in an apparent coup attempt against him last summer. The president has cast a rather wide net in his pursuit of dissidents, arresting more than 50,000 people in Turkey since the failed coup attempt.
A German journalist with dual Turkish citizenship, a German human rights activist and a translator have all languished for months in Erdogan's prisons. In an interview with the Rheinische Post published on Tuesday, shortly before a German ambassador was set to be allowed to visit the prisoners - which should be legally guaranteed - Gabriel demanded further "proceedings that follow the rule of law, and their release."
Justice Minister appeals to EU
Last week, another German writer with Turkish citizenship, Dogan Akhanli, was arrested in Spain. It transpired that Turkey had issued an Interpol warrant for his arrest, prompting further tension in Germany. "Within the EU, we must at the very least begin an intensive dialogue about how we deal with arrest warrants from Turkey," German Justice Minister Heiko Maas - another SPD politician - told newspapers belonging to the Funke media group in an interview for print publication on Wednesday.
The arrests, top-level war of words and personal threats come as German politicians have watched cars burn in the state of North Rhine-Westphalia's Ruhrgebiet. On Tuesday night, the Bundestag deputy Michelle Müntefering, the wife of former SPD leader Franz Müntefering, saw her personal automobile and a campaign car lent to her by the party go up in flames in front of her house in Herne, a city of more than 150,000 people that borders Gelsenkirchen, Dortmund and Bochum. Police suspect arson and have not ruled out a political motive in the case of Müntefering's car - nor in three incidents when CDU campaign vehicles were burned in the city in April, May and June.
mkg/msh (AFP, epd, dpa)