May 5, 2016 / 3:56 PM / 3 years ago

German politicians say Turkish PM's departure worrying

BERLIN (Reuters) - Politicians from Germany’s ruling coalition voiced concern on Thursday over Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu’s decision to step down, saying his departure paved the way for President Tayipp Erdogan to rule unchecked.

Davutoglu is seen in Europe as the more liberal face of the Turkish government, while Erdogan is heavily focussed on creating a powerful executive presidency that critics say will tilt Turkey, an EU candidate, towards authoritarianism.

Davutoglu negotiated a deal with Brussels on stemming the flow of illegal migrants to Europe, which German Chancellor Angela Merkel hopes will shore up support for her conservatives ahead of a federal election next year.

“Erdogan will be able to push ahead with his plans to change the constitution now without opposition from his own ranks,” Niels Annen, spokesman on foreign affairs for the Social Democrats, junior party in Merkel’s coalition, told Reuters.

“In view of the prevailing climate of repression and the current debate about lifting the immunity of opposition lawmakers this is bad news,” he said.

Erdogan’s ruling AK Party has faced accusations of rowing back on media freedoms and also aims to remove lawmakers’ immunity from prosecution, a move widely seen as targeting a pro-Kurdish party in the Turkish parliament.

Juergen Hardt, foreign affairs spokesman for Merkel’s conservatives, also expressed concern about Davutoglu’s departure on Thursday.

“Turkey will decide itself whether its future path leads to Europe or towards greater isolation,” Hardt said in a statement.

German politicians have long followed Turkish affairs closely. Germany is home to around three million people with an ethnic Turkish background and is an important trade partner for Turkey.

The EU migrant deal with Turkey has been Davutoglu’s project and Erdogan, frequently critical of the 28-nation bloc, has appeared at times to belittle his progress.

More than one million migrants arrived in Germany last year, many fleeing wars in the Middle East. Their arrival has put pressure on local authorities and helped fuel support for the anti-immigration Alternative for Germany (AfD) party.

Reporting by Holger Hansen and Caroline Copley; Editing by Gareth Jones

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