Tension 'undeniable' as German and Turkish ministers meet

BERLIN Sat Jun 22, 2013 3:52pm EDT

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BERLIN (Reuters) - Germany's foreign minister said tensions with Ankara were undeniable after he met his Turkish counterpart on Saturday amid a row over Berlin's criticism of a crackdown on protesters in Turkey and its reluctance to see Turkey join the EU.

Germany and Turkey on Friday summoned each other's ambassadors for tit-for-tat reproaches after Merkel said she was "appalled" by Ankara's response to the protests, and a Turkish cabinet minister accused her of blocking Turkey's accession to the EU because she was "looking for domestic political material for her elections".

Barring a last-minute change of heart by Germany, the EU looks set to postpone or cancel plans to open a new "chapter" in Turkey's membership talks next Wednesday.

Such a move would cast further doubt on the future of Turkey's already painfully slow negotiations to join the EU, and a senior Turkish official has said it would draw a "strong reaction".

German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle met his Turkish counterpart Ahmet Davutoglu on Saturday on the sidelines of a meeting in Qatar over the war in Syria.

"You can't deny the tensions," he told the German broadcaster ARD. "We're all making an effort to reduce them and overcome them."

He said the meeting had been "good and constructive", but that several issues needed clarification, and urged restraint on both sides.

"The talks must continue, we are in the middle of these negotiations," he said.

In Ankara, German Ambassador Eberhard Pohl met Foreign Ministry Undersecretary Feridun Sinirlioglu, a ministry official said.

Meanwhile, tens of thousands of demonstrators, mostly from Germany's large Turkish immigrant community, turned out in the city of Cologne to support those who have been challenging Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan on Turkey's streets.

The protest was organized by Germany's Alevi community - members of a sect related to Shi'ite Islam who form a large minority in Turkey and say they lack the religious rights enjoyed by Erdogan's Sunni majority.

Germany has criticized Erdogan's forceful response to weeks of anti-government protests and appears to be refusing to agree to open a new negotiating chapter, the first in three years.

Many EU countries want to expand negotiations with Turkey next week to help it on its long path to membership. They argue that Turkey's fast-growing economy, youthful population and diplomatic clout would bolster the EU.

However, Germany has made no secret of its skepticism. Merkel's conservatives oppose Turkish EU membership in their platform for September's election, saying its size and economy would "overburden" the bloc, though Merkel has stopped short of calling for a halt to accession talks.

As the tension between Berlin and Ankara increased this week, Italian Foreign Minister Emma Bonino said it was not the moment to close the door on Turkey.

(Additional reporting by Gulsen Solaker in Ankara and Daren Butler in Istanbul; Editing by Kevin Liffey)

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