Steinmeier, Erdoğan exchange barbs during state dinner

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German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier (L) and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan arrive for a state dinner at Bellevue presidential palace in Berlin on September 28, 2018. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is in Germany for a controversial three-day state visit that both sides hope will restore relations that have been battered in recent years. / AFP PHOTO / Adam BERRY

German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier raised human rights issues in Turkey at a state dinner in Berlin late Friday, prompting Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan to accuse Germany of hosting terrorists, Deutsche Welle reported.

“Eighty years ago, Germans found refuge in Turkey — today, a worryingly large number of people from Turkey are seeking refuge here in Germany from the growing pressure on civil society,” Steinmeier said in front of Erdoğan, his wife, Emine, and guests at the presidential palace.

“As we discussed this morning in detail, I am, as president of this country, concerned about German citizens who are imprisoned in Turkey for political reasons, and I am also concerned about Turkish journalists, trade unionists, lawyers, intellectuals and politicians who remain behind bars,” added Steinmeier.

The German president expressed hope that freedom, rule of law and human rights would return to Turkey more than two years after a failed coup attempt against Erdoğan.

In response to Steinmeier, Erdoğan in his speech slammed Germany for hosting thousands of “terrorists” from the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and the Gülen movement, which Ankara blames for the 2016 coup attempt.

Germany considers the PKK a terrorist organization but has not applied the same label to the Gülen movement.

Underlining that Germany asked Turkey to release six journalists, Erdoğan said: “We did the necessary. Our judiciary did its best, released two pending trial and acquitted one.”

Erdoğan also criticized Germany for hosting Can Dündar, a prominent Turkish journalist living in Germany who was convicted of espionage for publishing stories about alleged arms shipments to Syrian rebels.

“If Erdoğan proves that I am a spy, I will quit the profession. The photos [of intelligence service trucks] we published are those taken by the state itself. The people who should stand trial are not the journalists but those who conducted this operation [to Syria],” Dündar said at a press conference on Friday.

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