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Turkey

Turkish PM Erdogan campaigns at Berlin's Tempodrom

Turkish PM Erdogan has addressed thousands of people in Berlin as part of an elections campaign. This year, Turkish citizens living in Germany will be able to vote in polls back home for the first time.

Erdogan campaigns in Berlin

"Finally, you can vote here,too," Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan told the crowd of thousands gathered to hear him speak in Berlin on Tuesday evening. An estimated 4,000 people were present at the city's Tempodrom area, most of them of Turkish origin.

"I want you to be proud to live in Germany. But I also want you to be proud of the Turkish flag. You are children of a great country," Erdogan said.

The Turkish premier had travelled to Germany's capital earlier in the day for bilateral talks with Chancellor Angela Merkel and Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier.

Maintaining diplomatic relations between Turkey and Germany is important for both governments. Not only is Germany Turkey's most important trade partner - in 2012, trade between the two reached a record of 32.1 billion euros ($43.4 billion) - but it is also home to roughly 3 million people of Turkish heritage, half of whom are German citizens.

Erdogan and Merkel largely avoided discussing Ankara's recent humanitarian record and a graft scandal that prompted a reshuffle of the Turkish cabiet during a press conference earlier in the day. However, on Tuesday evening, Erdogan shot back at those he contends are trying to undermine his power by launching a graft probe that has prompted resignations in his cabinet.

"[My critics think: If they (the allegations) don't stick, they'll still leave traces behind," Erodgan said.

He also reassured his voters - an estimated 1.5 billion Turkish citizens residing in Germany - that, despite media reports about police crackdowns on protesters, it was "absolutely safe in Turkey."

Meeting with Merkel

Earlier on Tuesday, the Turkish premier met with Chancellor Angela Merkel in Berlin. While politicians from across the German spectrum had called on the chancellor to tackle Ankara's most recent scandals, they were paid little attention at the Tuesday press conference.

Over the past year, the European Union and Berlin have expressed concern at the state of democracy in Turkey in the wake of harsh police crackdowns on protesters, as well as its reform of the judiciary, which would allow politicians to appoint judges.

Chancellor Merkel did say that members of the German judiciary would meet with Turkish counterparts for "an exchange." She did not provide further comments regarding a recent graft scandal, which has resulted in a shakeup of Prime Minister Erdogan's cabinet. Top business figures and sons of three cabinet ministers have come under investigation for alleged bribery and illicit money transfers.

The Turkish premier has accused followers of an Islamic movement led by US-based cleric Fethullah Gulen of orchestrating the probe. He has also permitted the mass dismissal and reassignment of hundreds of Turkish police officers in what critics say is an attempt to derail the investigation.

EU talks 'open-ended'

Prior to the press conference, Prime Minister Erdogan had called on Germany for its continued support in bringing Turkey into the European Union. In response to Turkey's EU ascension aspirations, Chancellor Merkel said her government saw current negotiations as an "open-ended process." When pressed further for Berlin's opinion on how long EU negotiations should continue, Merkel stressed that issue was a Turkish one.

"Every country must follow its own path to democracy [relying upon] its inner strength," she said, adding that Germany continued to follow developments and would continue to express its opinion about policies that went against EU principles, as it had with police crackdowns on protesters.

Merkel also repeated Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier's calls for two key sections of Turkey's negotiations with the European Union dealing with justice and human rights to be opened as soon as possible.

Turkey has been an EU candidate since 1999. Talks have long been stalled, however, primarily due to European concerns over a territorial dispute with Greece over northern Cyprus. Police crackdowns in the summer further stalled talks, as has the recent graft probe.

kms/jm (AFP, dpa)

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