In Germany Erdogan pushes for visa liberalisation

Turkey aims to win easier access to the EU for its citizens, President Tayyip Erdogan said in Berlin on Friday during a state visit that aims to repair relations between the two countries after a bitter dispute. The government will move to meet the EU’s criteria for achieving visa liberalisation, he added on the second day of the visit that also aims to improve ties with the European Union.

“We are planning to fulfill the remaining six criteria for visa liberalisation as soon as possible,” Erdogan pointed out. “Visa liberalisation, updating the customs union and reviving accession talks will benefit both Turkey and the EU.” Merkel, at the same news conference, said she had pushed for the release of German citizens among the tens of thousands of people arrested since the coup, blamed by Ankara on supporters of US-based cleric Fetullah Gulen. Gulen denies involvement.

Germany needed more evidence if it was to classify Gulen’s movement, described by Turkey as the Fetullah Gulen Terrorist Organisation (FETO), as an illegal group like the Kurdish militant PKK. “We take very seriously the evidence Turkey provided but we need more material if we are to classify it in the same way we have classified the PKK,” she said.

Newspaper Bild reported that Erdogan had been ready to call off the news conference if it was attended by Can Dundar, a journalist who fled into German exile after spying charges were brought against him. In the event, Dundar stayed away. “I decided not to go because it was clear to me that Erdogan would use my presence as an excuse not to appear at the press conference and face critical questions from my German colleagues,” Dundar later told reporters.

The day was punctuated by protests, starting when a participant in the news conference wearing a T-shirt with the slogan “Freedom for Journalists” was bustled out when he began attempting to shout Erdogan down. Much of central Berlin was in lock-down for the visit, reflecting nervousness at the divisiveness of a visitor who is hailed a hero by many German Turks and reviled as an autocrat by many others.

Protesters holding Turkish flags and posters of Erdogan’s political opponents lined some streets. Later, some 1,000 protesters gathered on the city’s central Potsdamer Platz to protest Erdogan’s presence. “It is a scandal in the history of this country that it rolls out the red carpet for dictators,” Left party politician Hakan Tas told the crowd. “The day will come when the mass murderer of the Bosphorus will sit behind bars.”

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