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Germany's Merkel Rejects Turkish Criticism After Meeting Bans


Angela Merkel, speaking on March 3 in Tunisia, said public gatherings were approved or rejected at a local level in Germany.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel has rejected Turkey's allegations that forces within the government in Germany are working to prevent Turkish leaders from campaigning there for a "yes" vote in next month's referendum to expand President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's powers.

The allegations were levelled earlier on March 3 by Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu after local authorities in the southwestern German town of Gaggenau scrapped a rally to popularize the referendum by Turkey's justice minister, Bekir Bozdag.

Authorities cited a lack of sufficient space as the reason.

The city of Cologne also blocked an event where Turkish Economy Minister Nihat Zeybecki was to speak on March 5.

Merkel, speaking on March 3 on a trip to Tunisia, said public gatherings were approved or rejected at a local level in Germany.

Decisions were made "by municipalities, and as a matter of principle, we apply freedom of expression in Germany," Merkel said.

Cavusoglu earlier said German forces "don't want Turkish leaders to campaign because they are working for 'no' votes."

"They want to prevent [the creation] of a strong Turkey," he said.

Meanwhile, authorities in Gaggenau said the town hall received a bomb threat by phone early on March 3 after the cancelation of the rally was announced.

Mayor Michael Pfeiffer told German television he did not know with certainty if there was a direct link between the cancelation and the bomb threat.

"We presume this at the moment, but we don't know for sure," Pfeiffer said.

The dispute comes amid worsening relations between the two countries over the detention in Turkey of journalist Deniz Yucel on February 27.

A dual Turkish and German citizen, Yucel is a correspondent for the German daily Die Welt. He was arrested pending trial over accusations of terrorist propaganda and inciting hatred.

Merkel defended Germany's criticism of Yucel's arrest, saying, "I also think that it was right of us to criticize any restrictions on press freedom."

Earlier this week, Turkey's Foreign Ministry criticized Austrian Foreign Minister Sebastian Kurz after he said on February 27 that Erdogan was "not welcome" to hold campaign events in Austria.

Kurz said that such events would "increase friction" in Austria and prevent the integration of a 360,000-strong minority of Turkish origin.

EU candidate Turkey's relations with the 28-member bloc have also soured considerably following a failed coup last summer and a subsequent crackdown by Turkish authorities which resulted in more than 125,000 people in Turkey being fired or detained.

The European Parliament in November passed a nonbinding resolution calling on the EU "to initiate a temporary freeze" on admission talks with Ankara until "disproportionate measures under the state of emergency in Turkey are lifted."

That prompted an angry reaction from Erdogan, who warned that Turkey could throw open its borders to illegal migrants trying to get to Europe.

In March 2016, Turkey and the EU agreed a deal for Ankara to halt the flow of migrants to Europe.

Under the deal, EU leaders pledged billions in aid to Ankara, fast-track visa conditions, and possible new impetus for EU membership talks.

Turkey hosts at least 2.7 million Syrian refugees. Thousands of migrants from other countries -- including Afghanistan, Iraq, and Syria --also use Turkey as a transit route to reach Europe.

With reporting by AP, AFP, and Reuters
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