Counter-demonstrations planned during Turkish PM's visit to Cologne raise fears of possible clashes between rival groups
BERLIN / COLOGNE – Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s planned visit to Cologne on Saturday has sparked debate among rival groups and politicians in Germany.
Thousands of Turkish immigrants are eagerly awaiting Erdogan’s visit and his address, while several politicians, parties and groups are calling for them to be cancelled, saying that could lead to new divisions and tensions among immigrants in Germany.
“Thirty thousand Turks will welcome Prime Minister Erdogan here,” said Suleyman Celik, leader of the Union of European Turkish Democrats (UETD) - one of the most influential organizations of Turkish immigrants in Germany, which prepared the meeting on Saturday.
"We are eagerly waiting for this visit to happen,” he added.
Several NGO’s and political groups have announced they have registered counter-demonstrations with the authorities in Cologne on Saturday.
The European Federation of Alevi Communities, which has long been critical of the Erdogan government's policies, has announced a mass rally in Cologne’s Ebertplatz, only three kilometers away from the Lanxess Arena congress center.
- Fears of confrontation
The anti-immigrant PRO NRW party also announced a protest would be carried out at the Deutz Train Station, about 800 meters away from the Lanxess Arena.
Cologne police department spokesman Andre Fassbender told the Anadolu Agency on Tuesday that police will take all measures to prevent any possible problems between the groups.
“According to the laws, peaceful protest is a right. These groups do not need our approval for organizing demonstrations,” Fassbender said. “But demonstrations should be registered with the police in advance.”
Stressing that the Rhine river is dividing the areas where the counter demonstrations will be held from where the Prime Minister Erdogan’s address will take place, Fassbender said police currently had no fears about possible clashes.
“We have experienced similar situations in the past, we have good experience. We are also closely following developments,” Fassbender said.
“Police forces will be there. We will take measures to prevent any confrontation between the opposite groups.”
Turks are the largest immigrant group in Germany with a population close to three million. Around a million of them have acquired German citizenship.
- 'Assimilation a crime'
Prime Minister Erdogan addressed thousands of Turkish immigrants in major rallies organized in Cologne in 2008, in Dusseldorf in 2011 and in Berlin three months ago.
At the events, he criticized Germany for deploying discriminatory policies against Turkish immigrants and called on Turks to learn German and integrate into German society, but also to preserve their own language and culture.
Several German politicians criticized Erdogan’s remarks and approach, claiming they reinforced a continued focus among Turkish immigrants to politics in Turkey, rather than Germany, and undermined integration efforts.
“I am for integration, but against assimilation,” Erdogan stressed during his visit to Berlin in February. “I believe that assimilation is a crime against humanity.”
Erdogan’s visit on Saturday comes only a day before the European Parliament elections.
Germany’s anti-immigrant, populist parties and some conservative politicians have tried to attract the attention of the electorate by strongly criticizing Erdogan and campaigning for his visit to be cancelled.
German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier told a press conference on Monday that he disagreed with calls for a cancellation.
Steinmeier stressed: “Prime Minister Erdogan planned this visit months and weeks ago. I am confident that this will be in line with internationally established practices and a good climate in Germany-Turkey relations.
“We should not fall into a debate on preventing this or that politician visiting Germany and addressing citizens. This would also be inappropriate to the level we have reached in Germany-Turkey relations.”
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