German Chancellor Merkel visits Turkey, supports EU deal

Published April 23rd, 2016 - 09:21 GMT
German Chancellor Angela Merkel. (AFP/File)
German Chancellor Angela Merkel. (AFP/File)

German Chancellor Angela Merkel travels to Turkey on Saturday against the backdrop of a controversial deal to return illegal migrants from Greece to Turkey and a series of media scandals that have soured German-Turkish relations.

Merkel will visit the town of Nizip in the southern province of Gaziantep on the invitation of Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu. Nizip is home to thousands of Syrian refugees living in a government-run container camp.

In a deal agreed to in Brussels last month, the European Union is offering Ankara a package of incentives in exchange for its help to return illegal migrants to Turkey, which already hosts 2.7 million Syrian refugees.

Championed by Merkel and called inhumane by critics, it is aimed at discouraging people smuggling via treacherous sea routes and cutting off the main migration trail from the Middle East to Europe.

EU President Donald Tusk and European Commission Vice President Frans Timmermans will travel to Turkey alongside Merkel, with Tusk's office saying that their visit would serve as a "follow up" to the agreement reached in Brussels.

Earlier this month, Merkel's government granted a Turkish request to allow the prosecution of German comedian Jan Boehmermann, who mocked President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on television. Under German law, a person can be prosecuted for insulting a foreign head of state.

It was the latest incident involving the media to strain diplomatic relations and spark a battle over free speech.

In March, a public broadcaster showed a satirical song that poked fun at Erdogan, prompting Ankara to summon the German ambassador.

Merkel's popularity has slipped in Germany as critics accuse her of ceding to Turkish pressure because she needs Ankara's help in halting the refugee influx, even as Erdogan taken an increasingly aggressive stance toward the press and opposition critics.

Merkel's spokesman Steffen Seibert said that while her visit to Turkey was not an occasion for bilateral talks between Berlin and Ankara, the chancellor would not avoid topics that "worry us."

"Of course, issues of democratic development and freedom of speech and the press in Turkey are always important," Seibert said Friday.

Reports Without Borders ranks Turkey 151, out of 180 countries, on its Press Freedom Index. Prominent journalists have recently been put on trial or denied accreditation and newspapers taken over by the government. The government insists there are no restrictions on the press.
 
By Friederike Heine

© 2021 dpa GmbH

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