German president to visit Turkey for talks with top officials

German President Joachim Gauck is scheduled to pay a four-day-long official visit to Turkey from April 26-29 to have talks with top Turkish officials.

Gauck is scheduled to meet with his Turkish counterpart President Abdullah Gul and Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan during his visit to discuss current developments in Turkey and in Europe, particularly in Germany, according to information obtained from German Embassy officials in Ankara. Gauck is also expected to have meetings with nongovernmental organizations in Turkey.

A German diplomat who spoke to Today’s Zaman on the condition of anonymity said the meeting will be closed to the public. The diplomat also noted that the German president will pay a visit to German troops sent to operate Patriot batteries in Turkey’s southern province of Kahramanmaras on April 27.

The German government sent two Patriot batteries to Turkey after Ankara formally requested NATO assistance in late 2012 to bolster its air defense against possible missile threats from Syria. Approximately 400 German troops are operating the Patriots, which are entirely for defense purposes, aimed solely for the protection of NATO territory. Kahramanmaras, a province of 400,000, is some 100 kilometers north of the border with Syria.

There were reports last year that the German troops sent to operate Patriot batteries near the Syrian border were being badly treated by the Turkish military officers with whom they were working. However, these claims were denied by the Strategic Research and Study Center (General Staff), which stated that the German military had not conveyed any complaints or demands to the Turkish side over the claims, which were published in the Turkish and German media.

The diplomat also added that during his visit to Ankara, Gauck will give a speech at Middle East Technical University (ODTU). Gauck is also scheduled to visit Anıtkabir, the mausoleum of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the founder of the Turkish Republic, in Ankara.

Following his visit to Ankara, Gauck will go to Istanbul, where he will attend the opening ceremony of the Turkish-German University in Istanbul’s Beykoz district, according to the German diplomat.

According to media outlets, recent restrictions on freedom of speech and expression in Turkey will dominate the German president’s talks with the Turkish officials; Gauck is expected to express his concerns over the matter. Germany’s Der Spiegel magazine reported that Gauck will convey clear messages to the Turkish side over recent restrictions on freedom of the press and expression.

Turkey’s ban on Twitter and YouTube drew harsh criticisms from international circles, which have urged Turkish authorities to respect freedom of the press and restore full access to blocked websites.

Access to Twitter in Turkey was blocked shortly after Erdogan vowed to “root it out” 10 days before the March 30 local elections. Erdogan has said he does not care how the international community reacts and that he will show the world the power of the Turkish Republic. The government was forced to officially lift the ban on April 3 after a Constitutional Court ruling.

The Turkish government also banned access to YouTube shortly after banning Twitter.

Gauck, 74, is a former Lutheran pastor. He became the country’s 11th president for five years when he won 991 votes out of 1,232 at a special assembly of Parliament.

SOURCE: TODAY’S ZAMAN