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Recep Tayyip Erdogan Turkey stands firm over ban on German visits to Incirlik base

Turkey and Germany on Monday failed to reach an agreement over visits by German politicians to a key airbase used for raids against the Islamic State group in Syria, with Ankara standing firm on its ban.

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Turkey's Incirlik military airbase has been at the centre of a spat between the NATO allies since Ankara blocked a visit last month by German parliamentarians play

Turkey's Incirlik military airbase has been at the centre of a spat between the NATO allies since Ankara blocked a visit last month by German parliamentarians

(POOL/AFP/File)

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Turkey and Germany on Monday failed to reach an agreement over visits by German politicians to a key airbase used for raids against the Islamic State group in Syria, with Ankara standing firm on its ban.

The Incirlik base in southern Turkey has been at the centre of a dispute between the NATO allies since Ankara blocked a visit by German parliamentarians last month.

"Right now it is possible to visit the NATO base in Konya (in central Turkey), not Incirlik," Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said at a news conference with his German counterpart Sigmar Gabriel in Ankara.

Germany has 250 military personnel stationed at Incirlik flying Tornado surveillance missions over Syria and refuelling flights for partner nations battling IS jihadists.

In light of Turkey's decision, Gabriel said that Germany would soon start the process of finding another location for its troops.

Berlin had previously indicated that it would move the personnel elsewhere in the region, most likely Jordan.

Gabriel said that he regretted Turkey's decision, adding that Ankara must understand "for domestic political reasons we will then need to transfer our soldiers."

But he added there was not yet any decision or a concrete plan for the relocation of the German troops from Incirlik.

Speaking later to journalists at the German embassy, Gabriel said Germany could not station its soldiers at a base where deputies were not able to visit them.

"Therefore, I think we will begin this week or next week the process of finding another base," he said. "I believe that we cannot solve the problem with Turkey now."

Turkey justified preventing the German parliamentary group from visiting the base by accusing Berlin of having offered political asylum to Turkish nationals who took part in the July 2016 attempted coup.

- 'Conditions not ripe'-

Cavusoglu said Monday that Turkey had no problem with Germany, which is a major trade partner, adding: "If Germany takes one step forward toward us, we will always take two steps further."

But he said that some facts could not be ignored, claiming that more than 400 Turkish diplomatic or official passport holders had sought asylum in Germany.

"We would not like to see members of FETO take shelter in friendly country Germany," he said, referring to a movement led by US-based Muslim preacher Fethullah Gulen, blamed by Ankara for orchestrating the failed coup.

Gabriel said asylum cases were handled by an independent German authority, and "in the end it is courts which decide, and not the government."

Cavusoglu hinted that visits to Incirlik could be possible in the future if unspecified joint steps were taken, but that "Conditions are not ripe right now to visit Incirlik," he said.

Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim cancelled a planned meeting with Gabriel because of scheduling reasons, an official from the Turkish premier's office said.

"The meeting could not take place time-wise," the official told AFP on condition of anonymity.

But Gabriel met with President Recep Tayyip Erdogan at the presidential palace.

Relations between Turkey and Germany have been tense since last July's failed coup but deteriorated over a referendum campaign this year to expand Erdogan's powers.

Ties were strained further after Turkish authorities imprisoned a German-Turkish journalist with Die Welt, Deniz Yucel, on terror charges.

Cavusoglu said that the accusations against Yucel were "not about journalism but terror," and that the "independent judiciary" was leading the investigation in the Yucel case.

Amid worsening relations, Erdogan has repeatedly accused German Chancellor Angela Merkel of "hiding terrorists" in Germany and claimed that Berlin was not responding to 4,500 dossiers sent by Ankara on terror suspects.

Turkey is an important country for Berlin, in part because of the roughly three million ethnic Turks in Germany after a "guest worker" programme in the 1960s and 1970s.

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