(Vatican Radio) Turkish leaders have condemned Germany for cancelling political rallies of Turkish residents due to be addressed by Ankara's ministers and said Berlin gave "shelter" to people committing crimes against Turkey. The German government has denied it was involved in cancelling the rallies, while Germany's president has urged municipalities not to cancel other political rallies.
While they are still allies in the NATO military alliance, Turkey and Germany are now facing their worst tensions in years.
Listen to the report by Stefan Bos:
Turkey's Justice Minister Bekir Bozdag, who had been scheduled to address a meeting in the southwestern town of Gaggenau until it was called off on Thursday, is among ministers condemning Berlin after several political rallies were cancelled in German municipalities. "The right of expression and meeting is guaranteed in all democracies by government bodies," he said.
"Here [in Germany] those rights have been ignored. They are ignored when Turkey comes into question. But for terrorist organizations which have been working against Turkey, the door is still open," the minister added.
The city of Cologne also blocked an event where Turkey's Economy Minister Nihat Zeybecki was to speak on Sunday. Police said shortly after that a second gathering he had been due to attend in the western town of Frechen.
With some 3 million Turkish migrants living in Germany, Ankara's ministers want to campaign here for a yes vote in an April referendum on constitutional reforms that would expand the powers of Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
Yet, German chancellor Angela Merkel has denied involvement in cancelling the rallies. Speaking in Tunis, Merkel said her government played no part in steps taken by city councils who, according to one mayor, acted purely on security grounds. However she renewed her criticism of Turkey's arrest of Deniz Yucel, a correspondent for German newspaper Die Welt. "We support freedom of expression and we can criticise limitations on press freedom in Turkey," she said.
Amid the standoff with Turkey, Germany's President Joachim Gauck has urged municipalities not to cancel political rallies, despite local authorities citing security concerns and at least one bomb threat. "Are we, the democratic middle, so weak to fear the arguments of those whose political notion we do not share, so that we must prevent public speech? I don't see this weakness," he stressed.
Germany is wary of rising tensions at a time when it is seeking continued Turkish commitment to arrangements preventing large movements of refugees from Turkey to Europe. Yet it isn't the only country where at least some authorities have expressed concerns about political rallies. In neighboring Netherlands the Dutch government said plans by Turkish officials to hold a referendum campaign gathering in the port city of Rotterdam were "undesirable".
The leader of an association of Dutch Turks said Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu was planning to attend the March 11 rally, hoping to persuade the Netherlands' hundreds of thousands of dual citizens to vote for the new constitution giving Erdogan greater powers.