German Chancellor Angela Merkel arrived in Turkey on Thursday to hold talks with President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and her counterpart Prime Minister Binali Yildirim. According to officials, she will also meet members of the opposition.
The visit has raised criticism among the opposition in both countries. German MPs said the trip could be percieved as an endorsement of Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s plans to change the constitution -installing a much-criticised presidency- as well as proof that Merkel was being blackmailed due to the controversial EU-Turkey refugee pact.
Speaking to the German daily Sueddeutsche Zeitung, Kemal Kilicdaroglu, leader of the opposition People’s Republican Party (CHP), expressed his disappointment in the German chancellor and said he hoped she would mention the need to improve democratic standards in the country. According to officials, Merkel will meet with Kilicdaroglu as well as Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) deputy Idris Baluken, who was released from prison on Monday morning, pending trial, after spending almost three months behind bars.
The visit comes during a a period of diplomatic tensions between the NATO allies. Germany angered Turkey recently by refusing to allow Ankara unfiltered access to imagery gathered by Tornado fighter jets operating out of Incirlik air base in southern Turkey.
Turkey has also accused Germany of harbouring soldiers it claims were involved in July’s failed coup attempt last year, as well as Kurdish militants.
The Tagesschau website, affiliated to the German state TV ARD reported the visit saying Merkel was looking for partners in Ankara “because the EU was incapable of forming its own refugee policies.”
“Turkey remains an extremely important neighbor and an extremely important partner for us Germans, as well as for Europeans,” Steffen Seibert, Merkel’s spokesperson told a press conference in Berlin before the visit.
“The talks would cover a number of topics, including the further implementation of the EU-Turkey refugee agreement, the situation in Syria, the Cyprus question, the cooperation within NATO and bilateral issues between Turkey and Germany,” he said.
Merkel’s visit comes following a high-profile visit by UK Prime Minister Theresa May, who signed a £100m arms deal with the Turkish government.