Authorities in the German town of Gaggenau have evacuated the town hall after receiving a bomb threat thought to be connected to the cancellation of a rally by the Turkish justice minister.
Bekir Bozdağ had been due in the town in south-west Germany this week to campaign for greater powers to be given to the Turkish president, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, in a controversial referendum next month.
But the minister’s appearance was cancelled on Thursday on security grounds, with the by Gaggenau authorities citing the lack of space in the car park where the rally was to be held.
On Friday police cleared the town hall after an anonymous phone call declaring the bomb threat was received at the police headquarters in nearby Offenburg. The caller said the threat was in revenge for the cancellation.
No evidence of an actual bomb has so far been uncovered. Authorities said they believed the threat was a hoax but one they had treated seriously.
The incident has come at a time when relations between Berlin and Ankara are at an all-time low over the arrest and incarceration of a German-Turkish journalist in Turkey.
Turkish politicians hope to rally the support of Germany’s estimated 1.4 million Turkish diaspora before the referendum in Turkey next month to increase Erdoğan’s power. The proposals include allowing the president to abolish the post of prime minister, appoint more judges and extend his time in office.
The Turkish foreign minister summoned Germany’s ambassador in Ankara, Martin Erdmann, to the ministry on Thursday, demanding an explanation for the cancellation of Bozdağ’s speech.
On Sunday the city of Cologne also rejected a request by the Turkish economy minister, Nihat Zeybekci, to give a speech. There have been widespread reports that Erdoğan, who has campaigned in Germany before, was also planning a political rally in Germany.
The rejections have escalated tensions between Ankara and Berlin. Ankara has accused the German government of trying to hinder Erdoğan’s attempts at constitutional reform. The Turkish foreign minister, Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu, accused the government of Angela Merkel of deliberately trying to “prevent Turkey from becoming strong”.
Gökay Sofuoğlu, chair of the Turkish community in Germany, warned against an escalation of the tensions. He told the radio broadcaster RBB that the Turkish government was exploiting the bans, particularly that of Bozdağ, for its own means. “It wants to increase its vote amongst the Turks living in Germany, by presenting Germany as both the new and old bogeyman,” Sofuoğlu said.
But Merkel’s government is under increasing pressure from across the political divide in Germany to stand up to Erdoğan, over fears that he is exploiting a refugee deal between Ankara and the EU, under which thousands of refugees are prevented from entering mainland Europe.
Merkel faces increasing claims that she has, in effect, opened herself up to political blackmail, with critics citing her failure to confront Erdoğan over human rights concerns, including the imprisonment of Deniz Yücel, a journalist who works for Die Welt daily.
Yücel’s arrest is being widely seen as part of Erdoğan’s crackdown on the press. More than 150 Turkish journalists have been jailed since the attempted coup.
As campaigns across Germany demand Yücel’s release, a letter from the journalist was published saying he was in good spirits and the conditions he was being held in were comfortable.
“Hello World,” he wrote. “After being kept in police detention for 13 days … it might sound strange but I feel like I have regained a tiny part of my freedom: Da light! Fresh air! Proper food! Tea and instance coffee! Cigarettes! Newspapers! A real bed! A toilet I can use only when I want … Although it has deprived me of my freedom, the process of being interrogated and the reason for the (arrest) decision still make me laugh … I thank to friends, acquaintances, colleagues and all the people who put up a fight for me. Believe it, this does me good, very good indeed.”