Turkey protests against German ban on Erdogan speech

Members of Patriotic Party shout slogans as they demonstrate against the visit of U.S. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Joseph F. Dunford in front of the U.S. Embassy in Ankara

Members of Patriotic Party shout slogans as they demonstrate against the visit of US Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Joseph F. Dunford in front of the US Embassy in Ankara, Turkey, August 1, 2016. (Reuters)

Turkey on Monday slammed a German court decision that prevented President Recep Tayyip Erdogan from addressing a demonstration in Germany denouncing Turkey’s failed July 15 coup, and summoned a German diplomat in protest.

The German Embassy’s charge d’affaires was due at the ministry on Monday to discuss the issue, an official said, as the attempted coup continued to strain Turkey’s relations with allies.

European officials have expressed concern at the scope of Turkey’s post-coup crackdown, while Ankara has accused European nations of not standing firmly in solidarity with Turkey against the coup bid it says was masterminded by US-based Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen. Turkey has accused the United States of harboring Gulen, who has denied any knowledge of the attempt to overthrow the government.

The US chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Joseph Dunford, was to meet Monday with Prime Minister Binali Yildirim in Ankara for talks.

A small protest against the visit was held near the US Embassy in Ankara, with demonstrators holding up placards reading “Dunford go home, send us Fethullhah,” and “Get out coup plotter Dunford.”

In the German city of Cologne Sunday, an estimated 30,000 to 40,000 people attended the rally to denounce the abortive coup and show support for Erdogan. A regional court ruled, however, that no messages from speakers elsewhere – such as politicians in Turkey – could be shown on a video screen at the rally. Organizers instead read out a message from Erdogan thanking people with Turkish origins in Germany for their moral support during the coup attempt.

Germany is home to roughly 3 million people with Turkish roots.

Speaking after a cabinet meeting, Deputy Prime Minister Numan Kurtulmus said the German move was contrary to freedom of speech.

Kurtulmus said German courts normally address cases very slowly, “yet the German Constitutional Court prohibited our president addressing the rally via teleconference in less than 24 hours. This is a clear double standard.”

On Saturday night, Germany’s highest court threw out a complaint against the decision, saying it was inadmissible for legal reasons and adding there was no indication the organizers’ fundamental rights had been violated.

“The decision not to allow the broadcast was absolutely OK and also lawful,” German Vice Chancellor Sigmar Gabriel said Monday. He added that “it had a de-escalating effect,” the German news agency dpa reported.

Germany’s Foreign Ministry downplayed Turkey’s decision to summon the German charge d’affaires, with ministry spokesman Martin Schaefer saying it was an “everyday normality” for “the representative of a country to be asked to go to the foreign ministry in his host country.”

Relations between the two countries had already soured since the German Parliament voted June 2 to label the killings of Armenians by Ottoman Turks a century ago as genocide. That prompted Turkey to recall its ambassador from Berlin for consultations.

The cabinet meeting in Turkey was held a day after a government decree introduced sweeping changes to the military aimed at bringing the armed forces further under civilian authority.

The decree, the third issued under a three-month state of emergency declared after the attempted coup, gives the president and prime minister the authority to issue direct orders to the commanders of the army, air force and navy.

It also announces the discharge of 1,389 military personnel, including Erdogan’s chief military aide.

Kurtulmus said the changes would prevent military powers being accumulated “under a single hand.”

He also announced plans to switch Turkey’s largely conscript army toward a force “made up of experts who are totally focused on the defense of the nation.”

The aim was to “create such a system, such an armed force that no one within it will ever think about staging a coup,” Kurtulmus stated.

The government has revised down the death toll from the attempted coup to 271. Yildirim said 237 civilians, police and soldiers died resisting the coup, in addition to 34 putschists who were killed.

More than 10,000 people, mostly military personnel, have been arrested in a crackdown that followed the coup. Thousands more have been detained and nearly 70,000 people have been suspended or dismissed from their jobs in the education, media, health care, military and judicial sectors.

Kurtulmus said anyone associated with Gulen’s movement would be purged from the public sector and his government “will show no mercy” toward suspects linked to the coup.

“Citizens who don’t have any relationship with this organization have nothing to worry about, they should rest easy nothing will happen to you, but those who do should fear. Sorry, but everything has a price,” Kurtulmus said.

Also Monday, authorities captured two more people suspected of being part of a group of soldiers who had raided Erdogan’s seaside hotel in the town of Marmaris during the failed coup, bringing the number of suspects caught in the operation that began late Sunday to 11. One suspect was still on the run.

Erdogan had been on vacation during the July 15 coup. The soldiers raided his hotel in an attempt to capture or kill the president but are believed to have missed him by an hour or less.

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