December 22, 2017 / 9:19 AM / a year ago

Germany hopes for improvement in Turkey ties after new prisoner release

BERLIN (Reuters) - German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel said Turkey’s decision to release a sixth German citizen from jail on Thursday gave hope that relations between the two NATO allies could improve after plumbing new lows following a failed coup in 2016.

German Foreign Minister and Vice Chancellor Sigmar Gabriel presides the weekly cabinet meeting at the Chancellery in Berlin, Germany, August 2, 2017. REUTERS/Hannibal Hanschke

The decision to allow pilgrim David Britsch to return to Germany follows the release earlier this week of German journalist Mesale Tolu after nearly eight months in prison.

“Decisions such as these give hope that we can rebuild trust step by step and relax the bilateral relationship,” Gabriel said in a statement released late on Thursday.

Gabriel said he had agreed with his Turkish counterpart Mevlut Cavusoglu to continue talks given the “difficult issues” that still had to be resolved. Germany is home to some 3 million people of Turkish heritage.

“Following recent rulings in Turkey, six persons have now been released from prisons or allowed to leave,” Gabriel said.

“And in the case of the imprisoned journalist Deniz Yucel, the Turkish judiciary has at least made the conditions for detention easier. The next urgent step here is the presentation of an indictment.”

The releases come two weeks after German federal prosecutors dropped an investigation against a dozen Muslim clerics who were suspected of spying in Germany on behalf of the Turkish government.

Tolu was charged with being a member of a terrorist organization and publishing terrorist propaganda following the July 2016 coup. She was released on the condition that she does not leave the country.

German politicians have been outspoken critics of Turkey’s security crackdown since the coup. Tens of thousands of Turks have been jailed, including around a dozen who hold German citizenship.

Ankara has criticized Berlin for not handing over asylum seekers it accuses of involvement in the failed coup. It says U.S.-based cleric Fetullah Gulen was the mastermind of the coup, but Gulen denies involvement.

Reporting by Michael Nienaber; Editing by Sonya Hepinstall

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