ANKARA, Turkey — Tensions flared between Ankara and Berlin on Friday over the cancellation of two Turkish Cabinet members’ rallies in Germany, and the ongoing detention in Turkey of a German newspaper reporter.
Delivering a speech in Istanbul, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan alleged the Die Welt newspaper journalist was both a German spy and a “representative” of the outlawed Kurdish rebel group, PKK.
Erdogan lashed out at Germany and accused Berlin of harboring him for a month at the German Consulate in Istanbul before agreeing to hand him over to authorities.
“They need to be put on trial for aiding and abetting terrorism,” Erdogan said.
An upcoming referendum to increase the Turkish president’s powers has been another flash point. Earlier Friday, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu spoke out against Germany over the canceled rallies, saying forces within the German state were working to prevent Turkish leaders from campaigning there for a “yes” vote.
German Foreign Ministry spokesman Martin Schaefer responded that the federal government had nothing to do with the cancellations, and suggested Turkish officials voicing their irritation in the press was in “nobody’s interest” and simply “pouring oil onto the fire.”
The German and Turkish foreign ministers appeared to tone down the rhetoric later in the day after a telephone conversation during which Cavusoglu relayed Turkey’s “unease” over the cancellation of the Turkish justice and economy ministers’ campaign programs, Turkey’s Foreign Ministry said.
It said the two ministers agreed to meet on March 8 in Germany. Gabriel’s office called it a “constructive and engaged” conversation.
Erdogan however, re-escalated tensions hours later, saying Turkey would continue to criticize Germany.
“They are telling us, ‘Why are you whipping up the issue?'” Erdogan said. “Just you wait, we have only just started. We are going to expose all that you have done in several international meetings.”
Relations already were strained between the two countries over Germany’s criticism of Erdogan’s crackdown following a failed coup as a flow of Turkish diplomats and soldiers sought asylum in Germany.
Germany has suggested it may not extradite suspects wanted by Turkey in cases it considers politically motivated, which has prompted Erdogan to accuse Germany of having “become a shelter” for terrorists and for having no regard for other countries’ national security issues.
The growing rift has potential security implications.
Germany has reconnaissance aircraft deployed at a NATO base in Turkey as part of the alliance’s fight against the Islamic State group. The European Union is also relying on Turkey to uphold a deal to stem the flow of migrants into Europe.