Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan took German Chancellor Angela Merkel to task for using the phrase "Islamist terrorism," creating an uncomfortable moment during her visit to Ankara.
In comments after their meeting on February 2, Merkel spoke of the need for Turkey and Germany to cooperate further in the fight against extremists, including "Islamist terrorism" and Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) militants.
Erdogan, sitting next to her, remained grim-faced as he listened, reports said.
Many Muslims argue the phrase "Islamist terrorism" amounts to equating Islam and terror. They say those who commit such acts have nothing to do with the religion despite their stated goals.
"This expression 'Islamist terror' seriously saddens us Muslims," Erdogan said as he glanced at Merkel.
"Such an expression is not correct because Islam and terror cannot be associated. The meaning of Islam is peace," Erdogan said.
"Please, let's not use it. As long as it is used, we need to stand against it. As a Muslim president, personally I cannot accept that," he added.
Contentious Press Conference
In other comments during the contentious press conference, Merkel stressed the importance of freedom of opinion and a free press in a democratic society.
Germany and other EU countries have expressed concern that Erdogan is undermining the rule of law and freedom of expression in Turkey with a massive, long-running crackdown following last year's failed coup attempt against the government.
Merkel was asked about the proposed changes in the Turkish constitution that would strengthen Erdogan's powers, a move his opponents say would lead to authoritarian rule.
"In such a time of profound political upheaval, everything must be done to continue to protect the separation of powers and above all freedom of opinion and the diversity of society," Merkel said.
The constitutional reform bill was submitted to Erdogan later on February 2, Reuters reported. Once he approves it, a date will be set for a referendum, most likely in April.
The German chancellor suggested that the referendum could be monitored by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) "so that what the people want is guaranteed."
But Erdogan denied there would be any end to the separation of powers under the new system.
"The legislative is still there. So is the executive and the judiciary. Their dissolution... is out of the question," he said.