Many Turkish diplomats, soldiers seeking asylum in Germany

A street is decorated with Turkish flags during a rally for the upcoming referendum in the Kurdish-dominated southeastern city of Diyarbakir, Turkey, April 1, 2017. REUTERS/Murad Sezer

BERLIN (Reuters) - At least 262 Turkish diplomats and army personnel have applied for asylum in Germany since a failed July coup that Turkey blames on supporters of a U.S.-based cleric, a spokeswoman for the German Interior Ministry said on Monday.

The number of Turkish citizens seeking asylum in Germany rose dramatically after the failed coup and Turkey has warned its NATO ally to reject applications from soldiers it suspects of having links to exiled cleric Fethullah Gulen.

Annegret Korff, a German Interior Ministry spokeswoman, said 151 applicants had diplomatic passports and 111 had no-fee passports, which are issued by governments to military personnel and other civil servants who are on official travel assignments.

She did not specify whether the 262 also included diplomats’ families, who would also have diplomatic status.

“Those figures are not actually statistically sound because they are based on the voluntary statements of the asylum applicants,” Korff told a regular government news conference, suggesting the real number could be higher.

Tensions are running high between the two NATO allies ahead of a referendum in Turkey next month that proposes expanding the powers of President Tayyip Erdogan. Germany infuriated Turkey by cancelling several campaign rallies by Turkish ministers on German soil, drawing accusations from Turkey of “Nazi” tactics.

The German government said in December that 5,166 Turkish citizens had applied for asylum in the first 11 months of last year, compared with 1,767 applications received in the whole of 2015. Some 80 percent of the applicants were ethnic Kurds.

Turkish Defence Minister Fikri Isik urged Germany in January to reject asylum applications from 40 mostly high-ranking former soldiers suspected by Ankara of having links to the coup.

Following the July 15 coup, Turkey has arrested more than 40,000 people and sacked or suspended more than 100,000 in the military, civil service and private sector.

Reporting by Joseph Nasr; editing by Ralph Boulton