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Germany protests Turkish minister's comments that Merkel is picking on his country

German Chancellor Angela Merkel makes a point during her speech at the German World Bank Group Forum 2013,  in Berlin Thursday June 20, 2013.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel makes a point during her speech at the German World Bank Group Forum 2013, in Berlin Thursday June 20, 2013.
Tobias Schwarz,Pool, Associated Press

BERLIN — Germany's Foreign Ministry summoned the Turkish ambassador on Friday to protest after a minister accused Chancellor Angela Merkel of picking on Turkey for domestic political gain before German elections, adding to tensions over Turkish security forces' crackdown on demonstrators.

Merkel on Monday criticized the crackdown as "much too strong." The chancellor has long been skeptical of Turkey's ambitions to join the European Union; her coalition government supports continuing membership talks but this week blocked a decision to move forward the negotiations.

Egemen Bagis, Turkey's minister in charge of EU affairs, said Thursday that if Merkel is looking for "internal political material" ahead of Germany's September elections "this should not be Turkey." He also pointed to the election defeat last year of then-French President Nicolas Sarkozy, a fellow opponent of Turkish EU membership.

"If Mrs. Merkel follows and reviews what happened to Sarkozy, who previously tried to use (Turkey) as political material, she will see that the fate of those who mess around with Turkey is not all that good," said Bagis, who is Turkey's chief EU negotiator.

German Foreign Ministry spokesman Andreas Peschke told reporters that ambassador Huseyin Avni Karslioglu was summoned to the ministry Friday.

He would say only that the reason was comments by a Turkish official regarding Germany and the future of the EU membership talks, adding: "These are comments that met with incomprehension — this is not in order."

Last month, German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle said he was hopeful of opening negotiations on another chapter in the membership talks before the end of June. But on Thursday, Germany and the Netherlands blocked a decision to do so.

That chapter concerns regional policies, not Turkey's protests. Asked whether the decision to block its opening was linked to the Turkish crackdown, Peschke said it was down to "open technical questions" on which he wouldn't elaborate.

However, he added that "of course, as always in life, everything is linked to everything else."

Human rights groups have said the protests in Turkey have left more than 5,000 people injured and more than 3,000 were detained, then released.

The demonstrations were sparked by a police crackdown on environmental activists in Istanbul May 31, but also criticized what some regard as Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan's authoritarian style of leadership.

NATO member Turkey began EU accession negotiations in 2005 but has made little progress, in part reflecting unease among some in Europe to admitting a populous Muslim nation.

Turkey's entry talks cover 35 different areas, or chapters. Only 13 have been opened, and several areas have been frozen over Turkey's refusal to allow ships and planes from Cyprus, an EU member, to enter its ports and airspace.

Germany itself is a potential obstacle to Turkish EU membership given that Merkel and her conservative party have long advocated a lesser, vaguely defined "privileged partnership," though Westerwelle's Free Democrats — her junior coalition partners— are less skeptical.

A spokesman for Merkel stressed Friday that Germany's support for continuing membership talks remains unchanged.

"Neither the chancellor nor the government are in any way questioning the accession progress," Georg Streiter said. "It's not about whether, only about how the accession process is continued."

Suzan Fraser in Ankara, Turkey, contributed to this report.