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Germany's Merkel expected to discuss Libya conflict, Syrian refugees with Turkey's Erdogan

Germany suspended arms exports to Turkey last year over its Syrian offensive [Anadolu]

Date of publication: 24 January, 2020

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Amnesty International has said Merkel should make Turkey's detention of human rights defenders the main focus of talks with Erdogan.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel met with her Turkish counterpart in Istanbul on Friday to hold official talks and attend the opening ceremony of a Turkish-German university.

Closed-door talks later on Friday are expected to focus on the future of a migration deal between Turkey and the European Union, as well as ongoing peace efforts in Libya in which Berlin and Ankara have taken leading roles.

At the inauguration ceremony of a Turkish-German university's new campus in Istanbul's Beykoz district, Merkel hailed the university as an "extraordinary symbol" of cooperation between the two countries which have seen strained relations in recent years.

"German scientists took refuge in Turkey during the Nazi rule. There were architects and mayors among them," the chancellor said according to bianet. "Turkey also gives the opportunity of refuge to millions of Syrians today."

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan added that Ankara would "continue to give all kinds of support" to the university, which he described as a symbol of friendship between the two nations, according to state news agency Anadolu.

Despite the friendly display of public praise, the two leaders are much more likely to butt heads between closed doors later on Friday. 

On the table for discussion is the future of the 2016 Turkey-EU migration pact. Spearheaded by Germany, the agreement granted Ankara up to 6 billion euros ($6.6 billion) in aid money and other incentives to help stop the flow of migrants into Greece.

The pact vastly reduced the refugee influx to Europe but the number of migrants entering from Turkey rose significantly last year amid renewed offensives in Syria and conflict in Afghanistan, leading to deteriorating conditions in overcrowded camps on the eastern Aegean islands.

Erdogan has frequently accused the EU of failing to fulfil its side of the bargain and has threatened to "open the gates" for refugees to depart for Europe.

The Turkish president says his country can no longer bear the burden of hosting more than 3.6 million Syrian refugees and has called for Europe to support their settlement in a so-called "safe zone" in northeastern Syria.

Merkel and Erdogan are also expected to discuss the Libyan conflict.

The German chancellor arrived in Istanbul days after a hosting a summit in Berlin where world powers pledged to halt foreign interference in the country and honour a widely violated arms embargo, in addition to encouraging Libya's warring parties towards a lasting ceasefire and political process.

Turkey backs the embattled UN-recognised administration in Tripoli and has been widely condemned by Western powers for threatening to intervene in the conflict. Ankara deployed a team of military trainers to the Libyan capital earlier this month.

"If calm is not established as soon as possible, the atmosphere of chaos in Libya will affect all the Mediterranean basin," Erdogan said on Friday.

The Turkish president has urged European powers to support the Tripoli-based Government of National Accord, warning of the resurgence of extremist groups such as the Islamic State group if the capital falls to rogue general Khalifa Haftar.

"We hope the international community will not make the mistakes it made in Syria," he said.

The chancellor's visit also comes amid rising tensions between Turkey and the EU over Ankara's bid to drill for natural gas in waters in the eastern Mediterranean where EU-member Cyprus is widely considered to have exclusive economic rights.

Cyprus last week denounced Turkey as a "pirate" state that flouts international law. 

Turkey, however, contends it is protecting its rights and interests, and those of breakaway Turkish Cypriots, to the region's energy resources.

Amnesty International on Thursday called on Merkel to pressure the Turkish leader over Ankara's detention of a jailed philanthropist.

A court ruled last month to keep businessman and civil rights activist Osman Kavala in jail despite a European court judgement calling for his immediate release.

"That concrete steps are taken to end oppression against human rights defenders should be the focus of the meeting between Angela Merkela and Turkish President," said Andrew Gardener, Turkey researcher for Amnesty.

Gardener told German news agency dpa that such steps include the release from jail of Kavala - who was arrested in 2017 and accused of orchestrating anti-government demonstrations four years earlier - and the acquittal of the human rights group's imprisoned Turkey chair, Taner Kilic.

Agencies contributed to this report

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