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September 20, 2017

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Merkel slams Turkish travel warning, says no need to fear Germany

BERLIN - No Turkish citizen should be scared of travelling to Germany, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said Sunday, responding to a warning from Turkey that its citizens run the risk of encountering racism or terrorism in Germany.

"I want to be very clear here: Any Turkish citizen can come visit us," the chancellor said during a campaign stop in the north-western town of Delbrueck.

"No journalists are arrested here. No journalists are put into detention here. Here, we have freedom of expression and the rule of law. And we're proud of that," Merkel said.

Deniz Yucel, a German-Turkish journalist at Die Welt newspaper, has been detained by Turkish authorities since February on charges of terrorist propaganda and incitement for his reporting on the banned Kurdistan Workers' Party.

According to the German Foreign Office, Yucil is one of at least 10 Germans currently detained in Turkey on political charges.

"As we see it, he [Yucel] is sitting in jail for completely unfounded reasons," Merkel said.

Turkey's Foreign Ministry issued the travel warning on Saturday, telling citizens living in or visiting Germany to be cautious amid reports of racism during a national election campaign, anti-Turkish sentiments and alleged support for terror groups.

"Political leaders in Germany are establishing their election campaigns on foundations of being anti-Turkey and blocking our country's EU membership," the Turkish statement said.

Both Merkel and her chief rival in the September 24 national election, Martin Schulz, had called for an end to Turkey's EU membership negotiations during a TV debate last week. Merkel's spokesman later confirmed the chancellor's intention of bringing up the issue at an October summit of EU leaders.

Turkey's travel warning is the latest in a series of several retaliatory moves made as tensions soar between Germany and Turkey.

German officials blocked rallies connected to Turkey's referendum campaign to expand the powers of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Erdogan later issued a statement to Turks in Germany - of whom about 1 million have the right to vote in the upcoming election - not to cast their ballots for Germany's three major parties. Berlin responded with a call on Erdogan not to "meddle."

Though Germany has not issued a formal travel warning, the Foreign Office maintains a travel alert on its website telling Germans to exercise caution when vacationing in Turkey.

"Since the attempted coup in July 2016, an increasing number of German nationals have been indiscriminately jailed," the Foreign Office wrote.

"It is, as a result, strongly advised not to make public political statements against the Turkish government or express sympathy with labelled terrorist organizations," the statement read.

The German Foreign Office says it issues official travel warnings only when "every German would be threatened by an acute danger for life and limb in a specific country, as is currently the case in Syria or Iraq."

A travel warning constitutes an "urgent appeal" by the Foreign Office for citizens to refrain from travel in the country or surrounding region and would also call on Germans living in the country to leave.

Turkey's travel warning, in contrast, appears to be more of a political manouevre and does not call on Turks in Germany to leave the country - something that would be logistically unrealistic for approximately 3 million Turkish-rooted individuals who call Germany home.

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