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Turkey's Erdogan in Berlin for contentious state visit

September 27, 2018

Recep Tayyip Erdogan has arrived in Germany for a three-day state visit. Several demos are planned around the capital, Berlin, as the Turkish president prepares for a state banquet and a mosque opening in Cologne.

Erdogan in Berlin gelandet
Image: picture-alliance/dpa/B. von Jutrczenka

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan landed at Berlin's Tegel Airport after midday on Thursday, beginning a controversial visit, with full state honors, while thousands of demonstrators got ready to express their anger at the leader's authoritarian rule.

Large parts of central Berlin were shut down for the trip, partly to provide a security cordon around the Chancellery, the president's Bellevue Palace, and the historic Adlon Hotel, where Erdogan and his entourage are staying, and partly to accommodate several major demonstrations criticizing the many human rights issues that Erdogan's long-term rule in Turkey has produced.

Organizations representing journalists and various minorities in Turkey, including Kurds and Alevites, have called protests, while a left-wing alliance is staging a march through the city on Friday entitled "Erdogan Not Welcome." Some 10,000 people are expected. Several more demonstrations, both in support of and against the Turkish government, are planned for the second leg of Erdogan's visit, to Cologne on Saturday.

Read more: How Erdogan fills a political gap for German-Turks 

A billboard prepared by Reporters Without Borders
Reporters Without Borders is among several organizations that have called demos in BerlinImage: Reuters/C. Mang

Erdogan drew press attention shortly after his arrival. German newspaper Bild published a photograph of the Turkish president waving from the inside of his car and said he appeared to be making the hand symbol of the Muslim Brotherhood, Egypt's banned Islamist party. The four-fingered wave with bent thumb, known as the rabia, is used as a greeting by the party's supporters, and Erdogan has made the gesture during speeches in the past. However, it was unclear from the photo whether he was actually making the hand gesture. 

Both Turkish and German media will be reporting on the remainder of the Erdogan's three-day trip. He will have two meetings and a joint press conference with German Chancellor Angela Merkel. He is also set to receive military honors at Berlin's Bellevue Palace, where he will be German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier's guest of honor at a state banquet on Friday evening. 

Erdogan is being accompanied by four senior cabinet ministers as well as secret service chief Hakan Fidan.

Politicians from all of Germany's opposition parties have announced they will be boycotting the state banquet, with many repeating the same criticism: that the authoritarian leader would use the pomp of a full state visit to reinforce self-serving propaganda at home.

On Saturday, Erdogan is due to open a new mosque in Cologne built by the Turkish-Islamic organization DITIB.

Fiery words in parliament

Opposition politicians used a Bundestag debate on Thursday morning to express their outrage about Erdogan's red-carpet reception in Germany.

The socialist Left party's Sevim Dagdelen and the Green party's Cem Özdemir delivered the most fiery speeches, with Dagdelen condemning the "wrong signal" that the state visit was sending out, and Özdemir arguing that a simple working visit would have been more appropriate.

"A ruler is coming from a country where there is practically no longer any press freedom, in which more and more people are afraid to express their opinion," Özdemir told the parliament. The former Green party leader is one of the few German politicians to have accepted the invitation to Friday's state banquet. Özdemir defended the decision on the grounds that he wanted to make clear to Erdogan that while he may be able to silence the opposition in Turkey, he could not do so in Germany. "That's why I'm going," he said.

Dagdelen, meanwhile, rejected Erdogan's calls for a "normalization" of German-Turkish relations, which have been marred by a series of diplomatic rows between the two countries in the last two years. "There can only be a normalization when the conditions in Turkey have been normalized," she told the chamber.

But members of Merkel's Christian Democratic Union (CDU) defended the state visit. "It's always right to discuss with heads of state," CDU Bundestag member Roderich Kiesewetter told DW. "It's a question of how to include a country which is deteriorating in its economic situation, which has a terrible humanitarian situation, but which is also handling three and a half million refugees, and therefore we have to take it seriously."

But Kiesewetter also expressed reservations about Turkey's influence in Germany. "DITIB and other organizations in Germany work like spies, and like a criminal agency for the Turkish state," he said. "And therefore we should reconsider our behavior towards DITIB. We should rule them out of their right to provide imams in Germany."

Five German citizens currently remain political prisoners in Turkey.

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Benjamin Knight Kommentarbild PROVISORISCH
Ben Knight Ben Knight is a journalist in Berlin who mainly writes about German politics.@BenWernerKnight