July 31, 2016 / 2:46 PM / 4 years ago

Thousands shout support for Erdogan at German rally

COLOGNE, Germany (Reuters) - Thousands of demonstrators from Germany’s Turkish community turned out in Cologne on Sunday to show their support for Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan at a rally that ratcheted up diplomatic tensions between Ankara and Berlin.

A general view shows supporters of Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan during a pro-government protest in Cologne, Germany July 31, 2016. REUTERS/Thilo Schmuelgen

Waving the Turkish national flag, demonstrators held aloft pictures of Erdogan and placards reading “For Democracy, Against Putsch” after a failed military coup earlier this month.

“We are here because our compatriots in Germany advocate democracy and are against the attempted military coup,” Turkey’s sport and youth minister, Akif Cagatay Kilic, who attended the rally, told reporters.

The demonstration became the focus of increasingly strained ties between Germany and Turkey after a decision by Germany’s top court on its eve prevented Erdogan from addressing the meeting via videoconference.

“German Constitutional Court’s decision on the anti-coup rally in Cologne is an utter backsliding in freedom of speech and democracy,” Turkey’s minister for EU affairs, Omer Celik, wrote in English on his official Twitter account.

Erdogan has said it is shameful that Western countries showed more interest in the fate of the plotters than in standing with a fellow NATO member and has upbraided Western leaders for not visiting after the coup attempt.

On Thursday, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said Turkey should show proportionality in its pursuit of those behind the failed military coup, adding that she was following developments in the country with concern.

Germany is home to around 3 million people of Turkish origin. In Turkey’s last elections, 60 percent of them voted for Turkey’s ruling AKP Party, according to the organization Turkish Communities in Germany.

Police sources said about 20,000 demonstrators turned out at the rally, at which protestors held a minute’s silence for the victims of militant attacks around the world. About 3,000 police were deployed.

German officials are concerned that tensions within Turkey could spill over into Germany, which has seen violence in the past between nationalist Turks and militant Kurds on its soil.

Writing by Paul Carrel; Editing by Angus MacSwan

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