Tensions ahead of pro-Erdogan rally in Germany

Tensions ahead of pro-Erdogan rally in Germany

Tens of thousands of supporters of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan were expected to attend a rally in the German city of Cologne Sunday as tensions over Turkey’s failed coup put authorities on edge.

Since the attempted July 15 power grab, Erdogan’s government has launched a crackdown, detaining almost 19,000 people and sparking international concern.

Ratcheting up its clampdown on the military, Ankara on Sunday dismissed nearly 1,400 military personnel, including a top aide to Erdogan, and confirmed it would close military schools and academies.

Erdogan — alleging a group within the military acted on the orders of US-based cleric Fethullah Gulen — has also said he will bring the country’s spy agency and military chief of staff directly under his control.

The drama has spilled over into Germany, home to three million ethnic Turks — the biggest Turkish diaspora in the world.

Up to 30,000 people were expected to attend a rally staged by groups including the pro-Erdogan Union of European-Turkish Democrats (UETD), police said.

The UETD itself expects between 30,000 and 50,000 to turn up, including participants from Finland, Britain and Austria.

The rally was to begin with a speech in both Turkish and German that praises the actions of those who helped quell the putsch. It also blasts the media for what is described as “one-sided and biased reports” that fails to laud the “courageous action of the Turkish people and defenders of democracy”, according to a copy of the speech seen by AFP.

Several smaller counter-demonstrations are to take place, including one billed “Stop Erdogan” and another called by far-right activists, raising fears the demonstrators could clash.

Security services in Germany sought to head-off any potential violence between the different camps, with some 2,700 officers — including several Turkish speakers — deployed to keep the peace.

Cologne’s police chief Juergen Mathies warned: “One thing I want to make clear is that we will intervene against any kind of violence quickly, decisively and forcefully.”

Amid fears that the crowd could be further riled by live screenings of speeches from Turkey by politicians including Erdogan, Germany’s constitutional court banned an application for such broadcasts.

Nevertheless, Turkey’s sports minister Akif Cagatay Kilic will attend, said Mathies, adding that he had been able to stop the foreign minister from participating.

– ‘Don’t bring Turkey tensions here’ –

The tension comes at a time when relations between Germany and Turkey are already strained over the German parliament’s decision to brand as genocide the World War I-era Armenian massacre by Ottoman forces.

German politicians led by Chancellor Angela Merkel have issued strongly-worded statements against Erdogan’s crackdown following the putsch.

The hardline response “flouts the rule of law”, Merkel’s spokesman Steffen Seibert has said, also blasting “revolting scenes of caprice and revenge” in the wake of the failed coup.

At the same time, Ankara is demanding that Germany extradite suspects linked to Gulen. The 75-year-old cleric has strongly denied any involvement.

Erdogan enjoys a large support base among the diaspora in Germany. Around 1.5 million people with Turkish nationality can vote in Turkish elections.

His AKP party garnered 60 percent in the country in last November’s election, a bigger share of the vote than in Turkey.

Germany’s integration commissioner Aydan Ozoguz underlined Erdogan’s influence, saying he was concerned that “the relationships of people living here with Turkey are being massively exploited politically.”

In the days following the botched coup, pro-Erdogan activists have stormed locations in Germany popular with Gulen’s followers.

AFP/File / Ozan KoseA pro-Erdogan supporter holds a portrait of US-based cleric Fethullah Gulen during a rally against the military coup on Taksim square in Istanbul

Critics of the Turkish president have also complained of abuse and threats against them on social media.

German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier on Saturday warned in an interview with Sueddeutsche Zeitung daily: “It is not right to bring Turkey’s domestic political tensions here… and intimidate people who have other politic