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Germany calls for 'step by step' reconciliation with Turkey

Germany's foreign minister, Sigmar Gabriel, said there was 'no alternative to dialogue' after row over political rallies
Germany's Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel gives a press conference with his Latvian counterpart in Riga, Latvia (AFP)

Germany and Turkey must work towards restoring ties frayed by a series of disputes, Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel said on Wednesday, while warning Ankara that comparisons to Nazis in any row is a "red line that cannot be crossed".

Despite the differences on both sides, "there is no alternative to dialogue because that is the only way we can return step by step to a normal and friendly relationship," he said.

Germany's chancellor on Monday criticised Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan for likening a German ban on rallies by his ministers to "Nazi practices", calling the Turkish president's comparison "absurd" but urging calm.

"To our Turkish partners, let us talk openly and critically, but let us remember the special meaning of our close relationship and let cool heads prevail," said Steffen Seibert, Angela Merkel's spokesman.

Sharply rejecting Erdogan's Nazi jibe, Seibert said: "Nazi comparisons are always absurd and out of place, because they lead only to one thing - the trivialising of the crimes against humanity committed by the Nazis."

Ankara and Berlin are locked in a new dispute weighing on already frayed ties, this time over rallies in Germany by Turkish ministers to promote Erdogan's bid for greater powers.

The row erupted late last week after three German local authorities banned the ministers' scheduled rallies ahead of an April referendum over the plan to scrap the prime minister post in Turkey altogether.

The German authorities cited capacity problems in hosting the events, which they said would likely attract large crowds.

Chancellor Angela Merkel has said her government did not have a hand in the decisions, which fell under the jurisdiction of local governments.

But Ankara responded with fury to the cancellations, accusing Berlin of working against the referendum.

Lashing out against Berlin, Erdogan on Sunday told a rally in Istanbul: "Germany, you are not even close to democracy. Your practices are not different from the Nazi practices of the past."

He also warned Germany not to hinder him from making an appearance if he wished. 

"If you don't let me in, or if you don't let me speak, I will make the whole world rise up," he said.

Big voter base

Germany is home to the biggest population of Turkish people abroad, with about three million people of Turkish origin living here, the legacy of a massive "guest worker" programme mainly in the 1960s and 70s.

With some 1.4 million Turks in Germany holding the right to vote in Turkey, it is not uncommon to see politicians travelling there from Ankara to seek to sway the significant voter base. 

Undeterred by the numerous cancellations last week, Economy Minister Nihat Zeybekci made a campaign appearance in Cologne on Sunday.

Turkey's foreign minister, Mevlut Cavusoglu, is also planning to hold a campaign rally on Tuesday in Hamburg.

Altmaier repeated Merkel's argument that campaign rallies by Turkish ministers, in general, should not be banned.

"But they must adhere to existing rules. They must be registered and subject to checks," he said.

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