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Turkey

Turkish PM Erdogan meets with German chancellor in Berlin for bilateral talks

Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan has met with German Chancellor Merkel to discuss bilateral relations. In question are how crackdowns on protesters and corruption in Turkey will affect the country's EU-aspirations.

Recep Tayyip Erdogan met with German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Berlin on Tuesday around midday to discuss several issues, including relations between the closely-tied nations, as well as the Syrian civil war. However, recent political developments in Turkey were expected to provide the most fodder for the meeting.

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.

Moreover, a recent graft scandal 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.

Maintaining bilateral 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.

Following his meeting with Merkel, Erdogan was scheduled to meet with Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier and then later to address a group of Turkish-Germans in Berlin.

German politicians call for clarity

Ahead of the high-level meetings, politicians from both sides of Germany's political spectrum called on Chancellor Merkel to press Erdogan on the state of democracy and to reiterate Berlin's expectations of its partner.

The vice chairman of the center-left Social Democrats, Rolf Mützennich, told the financial daily "Handelsblatt Online," that the Turkish premier should be reminded of his country's obligations of upholding standards of justice expected in a democracy.

Chancellor Merkel must "advise [Erdogan] that his course of action against authorities investigating the corruption scandal is neither acceptable nor consistent with the standards of the rule of law."

SPD vice chair Mützennich was joined in his calls by Greens parliamentary spokesman, Manuel Sarrazin, who said Erdogan's idea of division of power "didn't correspond with that of European democracy."

Volker Kauder, who heads Merkel's Christian Democrats (CDU) in parliament, said Erdogan mustn't be allowed to complicate the topic of integration for German-Turks. The comments were published by news magazine "Spiegel Online" and referred to the fact that the Turkish premier's speech to Turkish-Germans in Berlin comes as part of his election campaign. For the first time, non-resident Turks are eligble to vote in March's elections.

Turkey EU-accession

The Turkish head of government was also scheduled to meet with German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier on Tuesday.

On Monday, Steinmeier advocated that two key sections of Turkey's negotiations with the European Union dealing with justice and human rights be opened as soon as possible.

"The door must stay open for Turkey," Steinmeier said at a press conference alongside Turkish counterpart Ahmet Davutoglu.

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

kms/se (AFP, Reuters, dpa)

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