BERLIN (Reuters) - German Chancellor Angela Merkel, in a newspaper interview, called on Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan to be restrained in a speech he is due to deliver in Cologne to almost 20,000 Turkish supporters on Saturday.
Critics worry that Erdogan could use his appearance to give a campaign speech for Turkey’s presidential election in August. He has not yet said whether he will run for the Turkish presidency, but he is widely expected to do so.
“He’s often made such appearances in Germany. I assume he knows how sensitive this event is, especially this time, and that he will act responsibly,” Merkel said, according to an advance copy of an interview due to be published in the German newspaper Saarbruecker Zeitung on Friday.
Erdogan’s fiery, patriotic speeches to Turkish audiences in Germany have frequently caused controversy. In 2008, he told them not to assimilate and called for Turkish-language schools.
An estimated 2 million Turkish citizens living in Germany have a right to vote in Turkish elections, and Erdogan would want their support if he stands for president. Another 1 million people of Turkish origin have become German citizens.
Merkel said: “The German government is concerned about some developments in Turkey such as actions against demonstrators, attacks on social networks and the situation for Christians.”
But she said it was nonetheless “undeniable” that Turkey had made a lot of progress economically under Erdogan, adding that the country’s relationships with minority Kurds had also improved. She praised Turkey’s welcoming of Syrian refugees.
Asked if she was being deliberately cautious about Erdogan because she wanted to have the chance to influence him, Merkel said: “The picture is not black and white but rather differentiated. Even if there are differences of opinions, we can move forward with what’s important to us via dialogue.”
Reporting by Michelle Martin; Editing by Mark Heinrich