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Merkel says she wants to end Turkey-EU membership talks

'I don't see them ever joining and I had never believed that it would happen'
German Chancellor Angela Merkel in televised debate with Martin Schulz, her Social Democratic rival in election later this month (AFP)

German Chancellor Angela Merkel said on Sunday that she would ask the European Union to call off membership talks with Turkey, amid escalating tensions between Berlin and Ankara.

"I don't see them ever joining and I had never believed that it would happen," she said during a televised debate with Martin Schulz, her Social Democratic rival in elections later this month.

She added that she would speak with her EU counterparts to see if "we can end these membership talks".

There was no immediate reaction from Turkey, which is in the midst of a national religious holiday.

The comments are likely to worsen already strained ties between the two NATO allies after Merkel said on Friday that Berlin should react decisively to Turkey’s detention of two more German citizens on political charges.

The arrests brought the number of German political prisoners in Turkish custody to 12, at a time when ties were already at an all-time low.

The plunge in relations began after Berlin sharply criticised Ankara over the crackdown that followed last year's failed coup attempt.

The arrest of several German nationals, including the Turkish-German journalist Deniz Yucel, the Istanbul correspondent for the Die Welt newspaper, further frayed ties.

Yucel has now spent 200 days in custody ahead of a trial on terror charges.

German journalist Mesale Tolu has been held on similar charges since May, while human rights activist Peter Steudtner was arrested in a July raid.

Troubled relations

Erdogan (AFP/file photo)

After Steudtner's arrest, Germany vowed stinging measures impacting tourism and investment in Turkey and a full "overhaul" of their troubled relations. 

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, for his part, has also sparked outrage after charging that Germany is sheltering plotters of last year's coup, as well as Kurdish militants and terrorists, and demanded their extradition.

Erdogan added to the tensions this month when he urged ethnic Turks in Germany to vote against Merkel's conservatives and their coalition partners, the Social Democrats, in 24 September elections.

The escalating tensions have split the Turkish community in Europe's top economy, the largest diaspora abroad, which is a legacy of Germany's "guest worker" programme of the 1960s and 70s.