As many as 40,000 supporters of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan gathered at a rally in the western German city of Cologne on Sunday, police said, many praising his government crackdowns in the wake of a failed coup in the country.
Organized by European-Turkish organization UETD under the motto "Yes to democracy. No to the coup," the demonstration was called to protest the July 15 coup attempt in Turkey that left more than 260 people dead and triggered mass arrests and purges of the military, government and civil service.
"It's good for Erdogan to take action," said 29-year-old demonstrator Cabuk Kenan, who travelled from the Netherlands to attend the event. "We want to show that we back him and the government," he added.
"I don't criticize the wave of arrests," said Habib Aydin, 26, from the south-western German city of Stuttgart. "A clean-up is necessary. The attempted coup was directed against democracy."
Some locals in Cologne were critical of the event held in their city.
"It's not okay that the political conflict in Turkey is transferred to Germany," Rainer Musculus said.
Resident Nele Skipp was also skeptical, not least because she felt a similar rally in support of German Chancellor Angela Merkel would be unthinkable in Turkey. "A pro-Merkel rally would never be permitted in Turkey. That's why this here today in Cologne is wrong too."
The gathering on the east bank of the river Rhine began with a minute of silence to remember the victims of the failed coup, as well as the victims of recent terrorist attacks in France, Germany and Turkey.
Later, a declaration was read out loud, explaining that the rally was to stand up for "the rule of law, unity, peace and independence."
The document was signed by some 100 organisations, including the Turkish-Muslim Council Ditib and the Turkish-German Chamber of Commerce and Industry, organizers said.
The declaration called on "all nations, organisations, parties and ... politicians in this world" to show "solidarity with Turkey" and with the government in Ankara.
Police said the situation at the rally was relatively quiet, with only minor skirmishes between ethnic Turks and Kurds in the city centre so far.
The city had prepared for the possibility of violence, with police deploying 2,700 officers for the event.
Officers dispersed a counter-demonstration of right-wing extremists in front of the main station over violations of their agreement with the force. The group, lead by the political party Pro NRW, had agreed to hold a rally at a fixed location, but then set out to march through the city.
Three other counter-demonstrations by left-leaning groups and youth organizations of some of Germany's mainstream parties had also dissolved by the late afternoon.
Representatives of all Turkish political parties, including the opposition, were scheduled to speak at the rally. Turkey's Sports Minister Akif Cagatay Kilic said earlier he wanted to speak at the event, while the Turkish consul general Huseyin Emre Engin was spotted in the crowd on Sunday, police said.
Authorities had considered a ban on the protest in the event that high-ranking members of the Turkish government attended and increased security risks.
Cologne police had issued a ban on a live-stream video feed from Erdogan in Turkey proposed by event organizers, leading presidential spokesman Ibrahim Kalin to denounce it as "unacceptable" and to say it cast doubt on the "true motives" of the German authorities.
It was not acceptable for Germany to allow the banned Kurdistan Workers' Party PKK to hold demonstrations in Germany, while a "democratic event" against the failed coup was frowned upon, Kalin was quoted by Turkey's state-run Anadolu news agency as saying.
The German government was trying to impede the pro-Erdogan rally, the spokesman charged.
Police in Cologne tweeted in German and Turkish from the rally.
"In this situation it makes sense that all participants, many of who speak Turkish, are well informed," a police spokeswoman said.
About 3 million people of Turkish heritage live in Germany, and the failed coup has sown deep divisions within the community.
Tensions between Germany and Turkey have intensified since the coup, which Ankara blames on US-based cleric Fethullah Gulen, who has an estimated 100,000 followers in Germany.
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