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Merkel threatens to pull troops from Turkey's Incirlik military base

German Chancellor Angela Merkel has threatened to withdraw German soldiers from the Turkish air base in Incirlik. The statement follows a year-long row over allowing German lawmakers to visit soldiers stationed there.

Türkei Besuch Bundeskanzlerin Merkel bei Erdogan (picture-alliance/AP Photo/L. Pitarakis)

German Chancellor Angela Merkel made the comments ahead of a meeting with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan after a renewed row over letting German lawmakers have access to troops stationed in Turkey.

"I will make it very clear to the Turkish president during our talks that it is indispensable for our soldiers to be able to be visited by members of the German Bundestag, as ours is a parliamentary military," Merkel said during her trip to Brussels to attend the NATO summit, which Erdogan also attended.

"Otherwise we will have to abandon Incirlik," Merkel added.

Merkel met with Erdogan on the sidelines of the NATO summit to talk about the "current strains in the relations" between the two countries, and pushed for the release of German-Turkish journalist Deniz Yucel, who was arrested over 100 days ago without a trial.

Deniz Yucel (picture-alliance/Eventpress)

Deniz Yucel, a German-Turkish dual national journalist, has been in remand without charge for more than 100 days

German government spokesman Steffen Seibert said in a statement that "in addition, the chancellor again demanded that imprisoned German citizens receive fair treatment."

French President Emmanuel Macron also raised the issue of his nationals held in custody in Turkey during the NATO summit. French photojournalist Mathias Depardon arrested in Turkey earlier this month while on assignment for National Geographic magazine.

Erdogan made flippant comments about the prospect of Germany leaving the base the previous day, saying that if Germany decided to leave the base he would simply say "Auf Wiedersehen."

Karte Türkei Incirlik Konya ENG

Broken relationship

The row between Turkey and Germany over allowing German parliamentarians access to the base has been ongoing for about a year but escalated once more last week when the Turkish government refused to grant visits for lawmakers once more.

Watch video 01:45

German lawmakers cancel Turkey visit

Around 250 German soldiers are stationed at the military facility, supporting the US-led coalition against the so-called "Islamic State" (IS) in neighboring Syria and Iraq with reconnaissance flights. Germany also has a refueling jet on the base in Turkey that helps fighter jets from other nations in their fight against IS.

The German government has taken initial steps to assess whether the troops could be moved to another country in the region, with Jordan being one option under discussion.

Human rights abuses

Turkish-German relations have reached a low point, as the erstwhile allies have run into a series of disagreements in recent times. In addition to the controversy surrounding parliamentary visits to German troops, arrests of German nationals, in particular journalists , under the ongoing state of emergency in Turkey and conflicting strategies for achieving peace in Syria have turned things sour between the two countries.

Refugee crisis

Another bone of contention between Turkey and the European Union at large has been the migrant situation, with Turkey helping to keep hundreds of thousands of migrants at bay following a 2016 migrant deal. To this end, Erdogan also met with European Council chief Donald Tusk and European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker during the NATO summit in Brussels.

Turkey had agreed to curb the flood of migrants into Europe, in return for visa-free travel for Turks to Europe, among other conditions. Brussels, however, said it first wants to see Ankara modify its anti-terrorism laws, which it regards as too broad and far-reaching, often infringing upon fundamental human rights issues especially under the ongoing 10-month state of emergency.

A public debate about the prospect of reintroducing the death penalty in Turkey is becoming a grave concern for the EU; Turkey's EU accession talks would stop if capital punishment were brought back in Turkey by public referendum. Erdogan has defended the plans, saying that it was the will of the people to see the alleged perpetrators of the July 15, 2016, coup attempt in Turkey, which saw more than 250 people killed, brought to justice this way. 

ss/sms (dpa, AFP, Reuters)

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