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German Chancellor Merkel calls on Europe to cooperate against Turkey

GERMAN CHANCELLOR MERKEL CALLS ON EUROPE TO COOPERATE AGAINST TURKEY

German Chancellor Angela Merkel called on Europe to remain united in its dealings with Turkey amid moves by Berlin to revamp its relationship with Ankara following a deterioration in the relationship between the two nations.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who is running for re-election, said she would propose to EU leaders that they debate future ties with Turkey -- including the possibility of suspending or ending membership talks.

Addressing lawmakers on Tuesday at the last session of Germany's parliament before Sept. 24's federal elections, Merkel promised to raise the issue of Turkey's EU membership at the EU-leadership level after the vote.

"At the EU Council meeting in October, I will propose discussing future relations with Turkey, including the question of whether we would suspend or end membership talks," she said.

Turkey's EU accession process could come under renewed scrutiny next month, Germany's leader, Angela Merkel, warned on Tuesday.

Merkel said EU member states should maintain a united approach towards Turkey, and also refrain from giving the impression of a divided Europe.

Nothing would be more striking than if we publicly disagreed on the question of future dealings with Turkey in the eyes of President (Recep Tayyip) Erdoğan," Merkel told the last session of parliament before this month's election.

"This would dramatically weaken Europe's position," the chancellor told lawmakers, with Berlin having already moved to consider overhauling its ties with Turkey.

EU leaders are scheduled to meet in Brussels on Oct. 19-20 for a European Council meeting.

ACCESSION TALKS
Any decision to end Turkey's membership talks would require unanimity among all EU member states, which is far from certain, as several countries remain strongly opposed to such calls earlier this year, and insist on maintaining dialogue with Ankara.

The German Chancellor and her Christian Democrat (CDU/CSU) bloc have long-opposed Turkey's full EU membership but supported the continuation of accession negotiations in an open-ended way, something which was promised to Ankara before the CDU/CSU came to power in 2005.

However, Merkel came under enormous pressure this week to change this policy after her Social Democratic Party (SPD) rival Martin Schulz, during a televised face-to-face debate on Sunday night, called for a tougher line on Turkey.

In a surprise move, the SPD leader suggested immediately stopping Ankara's EU membership talks and freezing €4 billion ($4.68 billion) in pre-accession funds.

Merkel, caught unprepared for such a move, first cited how the coalition government's foreign minister, Sigmar Gabriel, also a social democrat, had so far opposed ending Turkey's EU membership talks.

But later in the debate, Merkel also sharpened her tone towards Turkey, and said she would discuss with European colleagues if there was a common understanding among them on a potential decision to end Turkey's EU membership talks.

TURKISH-GERMAN TENSIONS
Tensions between Berlin and Ankara further escalated last week after the arrest in Turkey of two German citizens of Turkish descent on suspicion of supporting terrorist groups.

Since the July 2016 defeated coup attempt in Turkey, more than a dozen German citizens have been arrested on suspicion of providing support to illegal or terrorist groups.

While Merkel and German politicians demanded their immediate release, the Turkish authorities repeatedly stressed that the country's judiciary is independent, ruling out any political influence on legal procedures.

Ties between Ankara and Berlin have been strained since the defeated coup attempt, as Turkish leaders slammed Germany for turning a blind eye to outlawed groups and terrorist organizations hostile to Turkey.

German politicians, on the other hand, voiced concerns over the rule of law and human rights issues amid widespread investigations by Turkish authorities into the Fetullah Terrorist Organization (FETO), which orchestrated the defeated coup attempt that left 250 people martyred and nearly 2,200 injured.

FETO has a large network in Germany, with dozens of private schools, businesses and media organizations.

Since the defeated coup attempt, nearly 4,000 FETO suspects have come to Germany from Turkey and other countries, according to local media reports.

Despite repeated requests by Ankara to arrest leading FETO figures, the German authorities have turned down extradition requests, arguing that Ankara should first provide sound legal evidence.

Apart from FETO, the terrorist PKK organization is also active in the country, and carries out significant propaganda, recruitment and funding activities.

The group has nearly 14,000 followers among Germany's Kurdish immigrant population, according to the German domestic intelligence agency BfV.

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