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German opposition to Turkey's EU membership rises: poll

BERLIN (Reuters) - A growing majority of Germans are opposed to Turkey entering the European Union, according to a poll published days after Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan made a controversial speech to Turks in Cologne.

Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan speaks to supporters during his visit in Cologne May 24, 2014. REUTERS/Wolfgang Rattay

The survey by Forsa for Stern magazine found 69 percent of Germans oppose Turkey joining the EU, up from 52 percent who were against it in a 2005 survey. The number in favor of Turkey joining the EU fell to 26 percent from 43 percent in 2005, according to the poll released on Tuesday.

Many EU governments support Turkey’s ambitions to join, arguing that Europe should capitalize on Ankara’s influence in the Middle East. However, German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s ruling conservative party has long been opposed.

Germany has always had doubts about allowing a largely Muslim country of 76 million people into the European club, fearing that cultural differences and its size will make it too difficult to integrate.

Ankara began negotiations to join the EU in 2005, 18 years after applying. But a series of political obstacles, notably over the divided island of Cyprus, and resistance to Turkish membership in Germany and France, have slowed progress.

On Saturday, Erdogan told a cheering arena of 16,000 diaspora supporters in Germany to integrate but not assimilate in a defiant hour-long speech. Some 45,000 protesters marched against the Turkish premier’s appearance.

Erdogan has often addressed mass audiences of expatriate Turks when visiting Germany in rousing patriotic affairs with thousands waving the Turkish flag.

Some 3 million people of Turkish origin live in Germany and 1.4 million Turkish citizens can vote, a number equivalent to the electorate of Turkey’s fifth-largest city Adana.

Erdogan’s handling of protests against his government in the past year and his two-week closure of social networking site Twitter and block on video-sharing platform YouTube this year drew criticism at home and abroad, including from the German government.

Turkey has said it remains determined to continue on the path towards EU accession but government officials from Erdogan on down have voiced frustration at what they see as unnecessary bureaucratic and political obstacles.

Reporting by Erik Kirschbaum; Editing by Stephen Brown and Susan Fenton