Erdogan's assimilation remarks stoke tension


Germany:Leading German conservatives have called on chancellor Angela Merkel to demand a review of Turkey's EU accession after Turkish prime minister Recep Tayip Erdogan told Turks in Germany that "assimilation is a crime against humanity".

The politician urged the Turkish citizens to integrate into German society, calling it a "disadvantage" not to speak German. But in a speech peppered with talk of "we Turks" and "the Germans", Mr Erdogan had another message.

"I understand that you are sensitive about the issue of assimilation," said Mr Erdogan to a crowd of 16,000 cheering supporters in Cologne. "No one can demand that from you." German politicians have reacted with irritation and anger to his remarks.

"Erdogan preached Turkish nationalism on German soil. That is anti-European and confirms our misgivings regarding Turkish EU membership," said Erwin Huber, leader of the Christian Social Union (CSU), Bavarian sister party of the Christian Democrats (CDU).

"One must now consider . . . whether it makes sense under these circumstances to continue with accession talks." The remarks could prove to be a setback to attempts at better integration after four decades of neglect.

Dieter Wiefelsputz, the Social Democrat (SPD) home affairs spokesman, described the CSU's demand to review Turkey's EU ambitions as "gaga". But he warned: "We set the integration rules here in Germany."

Chancellor Merkel chose her words carefully when she weighed into the controversy, noting: "I think we need to further discuss the issue of integration with the Turkish prime minister." She could barely conceal her surprise last week when, after talks, Mr Erdogan announced at a press conference that Germany needed Turkish language schools. He offered to send Turkish teachers to help the effort, but his offer has been declined.

The Turkish prime minister repeated his assimilation remark and his offer of teachers in Ankara yesterday, asking German politicians: "What are you afraid of?"

His visit has ramped up rather than defused the already tense atmosphere between Germans and its two-million-strong Turkish community, 10 days after an apartment fire in Ludwigshafen that killed nine Turkish citizens.

Police still have no definite idea what started the fire, but the Turkish media was quick to describe it as an arson attack.

Green Party MP Memet Kilic called Mr Erdogan's speech - and the reaction from Turks and Germans - a "wake-up call".

"When you ostracise migrants," he said, "you leave them no choice but to identify with another state and another prime minister."