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Merkel and rival criticised over anti-Turkish rhetoric

Turkish officials have denounced German chancellor Angela Merkel and Martin Schulz, her main opponent in this month's general election, for their anti-Turkish rhetoric during a televised debate.

Ibrahim Kalin, spokesman for the Turkish presidency, said in a tweet that Mrs Merkel and her Social Democratic Party rival are seeking to divert attention from urgent issues in their country and in Europe, such as a surge in discrimination and racism.

In Sunday's debate, Mr Schulz said he would seek to end long-running but currently stalled talks on Turkey joining the EU over what he perceived to be Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan's increasingly authoritarian policies.

Mrs Merkel, who has previously expressed doubts about Turkey ever joining the EU, refused to commit firmly to the same move, which would have to be agreed among EU members.

However, she sharply criticised Mr Erdogan's rule, saying: "Turkey is departing from all democratic practices at break-neck speed."

Relations between the two countries have been tense for some time.

Turkey has blamed Germany for harbouring people with alleged links to last year's failed coup against Erdogan as well as outlawed Kurdish militant groups, while Berlin has accused Turkey of backsliding on democratic values.

More than 50,000 were arrested in the aftermath of the coup.

Omer Celik, Turkey's chief negotiator for its European Union bid, slammed the candidates for their "careless" tone.

"We do not accept these disrespectful messages against Turkey," he said in a tweet.

Turkey's foreign ministry also released a statement criticizing the "myopic views" of politicians and reminding Turkey's role in stemming a migrant crisis from pushing the EU into "a big chaos".

The ministry said populist campaign politics should not undermine bilateral relations and warned against encouraging xenophobia and Islamophobia.

One reason Mrs Merkel gave for keeping lines of communication open with Turkey was Germany's attempts to secure the release of 12 German citizens being held there for what Berlin considers political reasons.

Last week, for example, two were detained at Antalya Airport.

German foreign ministry spokesman Rainer Breul told reporters in Berlin that one of them was released. The German couple of Turkish descent were detained for alleged links to the network of US-based cleric Fethullah Gulen.

Ankara blames Mr Gulen, a former ally of Mr Erdogan, for last year's coup attempt in Turkey. Mr Gulen denies the claim.

Polls show a double-digit lead for Mrs Merkel's conservative bloc over Schulz's centre-left Social Democrats ahead of Germany's September 24 election.

AP

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