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On Shaken Kos: ‘We Were Afraid to Stay Indoors’

Hundreds of people on the eastern Greek island of Kos have spent the night sleeping outdoors after a powerful earthquake killed two tourists and injured nearly 500 others across the Aegean Sea region in Greece and Turkey. 

 

Residents and tourists were too afraid to return to their homes and hotels, camping out instead in parks and olive groves, or slumbering in their cars or on lounge chairs.

 

The most seriously injured in Greece were airlifted to hospitals on the mainland and the southern island of Crete, and at least two were listed in critical condition Saturday. 

The U.S. Geological Survey measured the quake, which struck early Friday, as being of magnitude 6.7, with Greek and Turkish estimates a fraction lower. Two men, one from Turkey and one from Sweden, were killed when a collapsing wall smashed into a popular a bar on Kos.

​Aftershocks shake Kos

Panagiotis Bekali, a 30-year-old who has lived on Kos for several years, spent the night sleeping in an olive grove with his entire family. His 5-year-old son and 16-year-old nephew slept in the family car.

 

“There were cracks in the house (from the earthquake) so we went straight out,” he said. “We were afraid to stay indoors so the whole family slept outside.”

 

Dozens of aftershocks have shaken the island, further rattling residents and tourists. 

 

John Grant, a 60-year-old tourist from Britain, said he felt safer sleeping outside.

 

“I think coming from somewhere that doesn’t have earthquakes, you don’t understand,” he said from his makeshift bed set up on a lounge chair. “So to me it was very frightening being in the building, but being outside I know I’m safe.”

Hundreds hurt in Turkey

About 350 of the injuries occurred in Turkey, in Bodrum and other beach resorts, as people fled buildings and as the sea swell flung cars off the road and pushed boats ashore. Seismologists said the shallow depth of the undersea quake was to blame for the damage.

 

In Kos, the quake damaged the island’s main port, leading to ferry services being suspended briefly. Churches, an old mosque, the port’s 14th-century castle and old buildings in the town also suffered, and archaeologists and experts from Greece’s Culture Ministry were on the island Saturday to examine the damage.

 

Ferry services to Kos were being restored Saturday, with ships diverted to the smaller port of Kefalos on the island’s southwestern coast.

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Ahead of Pence Balkans Trip, Senior US Diplomat Vows Sustained Regional Commitment

As Vice President Mike Pence prepares to visit Montenegro for talks with Western Balkan leaders, a senior State Department official says U.S. engagement in the region remains strong.

The comments by Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Europe and Eurasia, Hoyt Brian Yee, come amid concerns that deep cuts in the proposed State Department budget could diminish Washington’s role in fragile democracies exposed to Russian interference.

On issues where U.S. and Russian interests align in the region, such as counterterrorism, Yee said the United States will try to work closely with Russia.

“But where Russia and the United States do not see eye to eye, where we are perhaps working along different lines, the United States, as Secretary [Rex] Tillerson has said, as Vice President Pence has said, the United States will defend the interests and the values of the United States and its allies very firmly, and that’s what we are doing.”

Russian influence

The Western Balkans are one example of where, Yee says, the United States thinks it is important remain vigilant without exaggerating the seriousness and magnitude of Russian election meddling and influence campaigns.

“We are taking steps where we can to strengthen countries of the Western Balkans against malign influence—whether it’s from Russia or other sources, other countries, other factors—to be sure that it is not going to be as easy for Russia, or any other actor, to influence through malign means the foreign policy or domestic policy of countries in the Balkans,” he told VOA.

One case that should be worrisome to every democracy in Europe, he says, is Russia’s interference in Montenegro.

“If Russia is willing, as the evidence overwhelmingly indicates, to not only interfere in elections, but to topple the government of a democratically elected state, of a state which just became a member of NATO, then other countries in the Balkans need to be very cautious,” Yee said. He was referring to Podgorica’s trial of Russian-funded coup plotters who allegedly planned to kill Prime Minister Milo Ðukanovic in order to derail the small Balkan nation’s bid to join the Western alliance.

That thwarted coup plot, which would have been carried out on Montenegro’s election day in 2016, was followed by its June 2017 accession to NATO.

Moscow had strongly opposed not only Montenegro’s NATO bid, but has actively sought to deter other Balkan countries from getting closer to Euro-Atlantic institutions, including the European Union, and to expand its presence in the region. Russia has reportedly been meddling in Macedonian internal affairs for nearly a decade, and has tried to use its traditional ties with Serbia to maintain its clout.

The United States recently expressed concern about (( a disaster relief center Russia is operating in Serbia https://www.voanews.com/a/united-states-sees-russia-humanitarian-center-serbia-spy-outpost/3902402.html )), which some Western groups and military analysts see as a subtly disguised military base set up by the Kremlin to spy on U.S. interests in the Balkans.

Vucic meeting

Pence’s upcoming Balkans trip comes on the heels of a White House meeting with newly inaugurated Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic.

According to analyst James Hooper, a former senior State Department official on the Balkans, Vucic used the meeting to prove to Serbian people that he’s trying to strike a diplomatic balance between East and West.

“Serbia has a very close relationship with Russia, and … I think there was some criticism, some concern that they were getting a little too distant from the West, from the United States,” Hooper said. “After all, Serbia wants a future within the EU.”

Because a non-alignment policy may not be sustainable in a globalized world, Serbia, Hooper added, should align its foreign policy with the goal of EU integration.

Pence and Vucic also discussed the need to normalize relations with Kosovo, whose independence is not recognized by Serbia or Russia.

Yee also says the recent White House meetings and Pence’s upcoming Balkans trip only affirms the new administration’s commitment to the region.

EU, NATO integration

Although Yee believes Balkan-wide EU and NATO integration will continue to square with U.S. interests—as it has across numerous administrations and party lines—Daniel Serwer, professor of conflict management at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies, says it may be too soon to say.

“Like the previous administration, they have a lot of issues on their plate; like the previous administration, they have delegated the Balkans to the Vice President, which is not all bad, but it is not all good either,” he said. “It seems to me that it is doubtful that there will be a great deal more attention, but I don’t think we know yet.”

What may compound the situation in the Western Balkans is the fragility of its democracies. Reform benchmarks required for NATO and EU accession have so far been mixed.

“They need our support and we realize that,” said Yee. “We intend fully to provide that support, but we need on the other side the political will, the resistance to corruption, the commitment to focus on solutions rather than political games. If there is this genuine partnership between both sides, than I believe we can be successful.”

Yee also said Balkan leaders who are resolved to see through the reforms that enable European integration will make their countries more resilient in the face of outside influences and be better positioned to determine their own national fate.

Although Serwer would like to see a more robust engagement in the Balkans, he agrees with Yee.

“We didn’t do what we did in the Balkans in order to control the Balkans,” he said of prevailing U.S. policies. “We did what we did in the Balkans so [those] people … could control their own destiny.”

This story originated in VOA’s Albanian Service. 

Jela DeFranceschi, Jovana Djurovic contributed to this report.

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Turkey’s Erdogan Heading to Gulf in Bid to Ease Qatar Crisis

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan starts a two-day tour of Gulf states Sunday in an effort to resolve a crisis involving Qatar, and four Arab states accusing the small peninsular nation of supporting terrorism.

Saudi Arabia, Egypt, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain have severed relations with Qatar. They are enforcing a land and sea embargo, accusing the oil-rich nation of supporting extremist groups and destabilizing the region, allegations Qatar has denied.

“Turkey is trying to contribute to efforts to facilitate toward peace and stability,” said Mithat Rende, a retired Turkish ambassador to Qatar. “Erdogan will try to bring people together if possible or communicate messages from one side to another.”

Erdogan starts his trip in the Saudi port city of Jeddah, where he will meet  with King Salman bin Abdulaziz and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. The Turkish president will then travel to Kuwait for meetings with Emir Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmad al-Sabah, before heading to Qatar to see Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani.

 

Some observers have voiced skepticism about Erdogan’s tour. Atilla Yesilada, a political consultant with Global Partners expressed doubt that Turkey can achieve anything, given its negotiating skills.

“Turkey does not pull any weight in the Arab world,” he said. “[Ahmet] Davutoglu [the former Turkish prime minister] might have made a difference, or [Abdullah] Gul, [former Turkish president], but Erdogan won’t.”

Analysts say any effort by Erdogan to position himself as a facilitator will likely be handicapped by Ankara’s strong backing of Doha in the diplomatic crisis. Turkey has been in the forefront of breaking the blockade of Qatar, airlifting large amounts of food and even sending milk cows.

In the middle of the crisis, Ankara opened a military base in Qatar as part of an agreement dating back to 2014. Turkish deployments of equipment, like tanks, to the base, have been steadily rising. The Saudi-led group had come up with a list of 13 demands on Qatar, including closing the Turkish base; but that demand was withdrawn, a move for which Ankara took credit.

“Turkey has always made constructive calls to parties. These have already yielded consequences,” said Turkish presidential spokesman Ibrahim Kalin, speaking at press conference Wednesday. “Reducing the number of demands from 13 to six and the removal of a demand to shut the Turkish base are positive developments.”

Ankara argues its military base in Qatar should not be viewed as being partisan. “We are also contributing to United Arab Emirates,” said Rende. “Turkey has been training F-16 [fighter jet] pilots from the UAE and also … other military planes. All these took place in Turkey so we are interested in maintaining good relations with all.”

Under Erdogan’s rule, Turkish foreign policy has been re-balanced with more of a focus on the Gulf region. Ankara has been courting Arab investment and is seeking to project its influence. But, some analysts are warning Turkey could be the ultimate loser in the crisis over Qatar.

“If Qatar wins and maintains its policy course that’s so widely criticized by the rest of the Arabs, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, UAE will never trust Turkey,” warned Yesilada. “Any hopes of building a military alliance over Syria or against Iran or substantial foreign investments from those countries is an illusion.”

Alternatively, he added, “in the more likely scenario, if the Qataris lose, one of the conditions will be the sheikhdom should not invest in Turkey in a large magnitude. Whoever wins, Turkey has lost. Given Turkey’s history of colonialism in Arab countries, it wasn’t smart to get involved in these countries in the first place.”

The Turkish Ottoman empire once stretched across the Arab world. Erdogan maintains there is little historical resentment over past colonial rule, arguing Turkey shares a common Muslim identity. But Rende said Erdogan’s two-day trip could be as much about protecting Turkish interests as resolving the ongoing regional crisis.

 

“The Turkish president, while visiting the region, will probably tell the interlocutors that this [crisis] is not in the interest of anyone,” said the former ambassador. “… Turkey as a country is interested in maintaining good relations not only with Qatar but with all parties.”

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US General Says Allies Worry Russian War Game May Be ‘Trojan Horse’

U.S. allies in eastern Europe and Ukraine are worried that Russia’s planned war games in September could be a “Trojan horse” aimed at leaving behind military equipment brought into Belarus, the U.S. Army’s top general in Europe said on Thursday.

Russia has sought to reassure NATO that the military exercises will respect international limits on size, but NATO and U.S. official remain wary about their scale and scope.

U.S. Army Lieutenant General Ben Hodges, who heads U.S. Army forces in Europe, told Reuters in an interview that allied officials would keep a close eye on military equipment brought into Belarus for the Zapad-2017 exercise, and whether it was removed later.

“People are worried, this is a Trojan horse. They say, ‘We’re just doing an exercise,’ and then all of a sudden they’ve moved all these people and capabilities somewhere,” he said.

Hodges said he had no indications that Russia had any such plans, but said greater openness by Moscow about the extent of its war games would help reassure countries in eastern Europe.

‘Artificial buffoonery’

A senior Russian diplomat strongly rejected allegations that Moscow could leave military equipment in Belarus.

“This artificial buffoonery over the routine Zapad-2017 exercises is aimed at justifying the sharp intensification of the NATO bloc (activities) along the perimeter of Russian territory,” Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Grigory Karasin told the Interfax news agency on Friday.

NATO allies are nervous because previous large-scale Russian exercises employed special forces training, longer-range missiles and unmanned aerial vehicles. Such tactics were later used in Russia’s annexation of

Crimea in 2014, its support for separatists in eastern Ukraine and in its intervention in Syria, NATO diplomats say.

Hodges said the United States and its allies had been very open about a number of military exercises taking place across eastern Europe this summer involving up to 40,000 troops, but it remained unclear if Moscow would adhere to a Cold War-era treaty known as the Vienna document, which requires observers for large-scale exercises involving more than 13,000 troops.

Some NATO allies believe the Russian exercise could number more than 100,000 troops and involve nuclear weapons training, the biggest such exercise since 2013. Russia has said it would invite observers if the exercise exceeded 13,000 forces.

Hodges said NATO would maintain normal rotations during the Russian war game, while carrying out previously scheduled exercises in Sweden, Poland and Ukraine.

The only additional action planned during that period was a six-week deployment of three companies of 120 paratroopers each to Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania for “low-level” exercises, Hodges said. “We want to avoid anything that looks like a provocation.

This is not going to be the ‘Sharks’ and the ‘Jets’ out on the streets,” Hodges said in a reference to the gang fights shown in the 1961 film “West Side Story” set in New York City.

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Allies Worry Russian War Games May Be ‘Trojan Horse,’ US General Says

U.S. allies in Eastern Europe and Ukraine are worried that Russia’s planned war games in September could be a “Trojan horse” aimed at leaving behind military equipment brought into Belarus, the U.S. Army’s top general in Europe said Thursday.

Russia has sought to reassure NATO that the military exercises will respect international limits on size, but NATO and U.S. official remain wary about their scale and scope.

U.S. Army Lieutenant General Ben Hodges, who heads U.S. Army forces in Europe, told Reuters in an interview that allied officials would keep a close eye on military equipment brought to Belarus for the Zapad 2017 exercise, and whether it was removed later.

“People are worried this is a Trojan horse. They say, ‘We’re just doing an exercise,’ and then all of a sudden they’ve moved all these people and capabilities somewhere,” he said.

Hodges said that he had no indications of any such plans by Russia, but that greater openness by Moscow about the extent of its war games would help reassure countries in Eastern Europe.

NATO allies are nervous because previous large-scale Russian exercises employed special forces training, longer-range missiles and unmanned aerial vehicles.

Such tactics were later used in Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014, its support for separatists in eastern Ukraine and in its intervention in Syria, NATO diplomats say.

Hodges said the United States and its allies had been very open about a number of military exercises taking place across Eastern Europe this summer involving up to 40,000 troops, but it remained unclear whether Moscow would adhere to a Cold War-era treaty known as the Vienna document, which requires observers for large-scale exercises involving more than 13,000 troops.

Some NATO allies believe the Russian exercise could number more than 100,000 troops and involve nuclear weapons training, the biggest such exercise since 2013.

Russia has said it would invite observers if the exercise exceeded 13,000 forces.

Scheduled NATO exercises

Hodges said NATO would maintain normal rotations during the Russian war games, while carrying out previously scheduled exercises in Sweden, Poland and Ukraine.

The only additional action planned during that period was a six-week deployment of three companies of 120 paratroopers each to Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania for “low-level” exercises, Hodges said.

“We want to avoid anything that looks like a provocation. This is not going to be the Sharks and the Jets out on the streets,” Hodges said in a reference to the gang fights shown in the 1961 film West Side Story, set in New York City.

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Baltics Need Anti-aircraft Protection Against Russia, Lithuania Says

NATO should permanently deploy anti-aircraft weapons in the Baltics to deter Russia, Lithuania’s president said Thursday as the United States put Patriot missiles on display after including them in an exercise in the region for the first time.

The permanent deployment of the advanced air defense system would be the next step in NATO’s new deterrent in the Baltics and Poland, which includes ground troops on rotation. Moscow says it is an unjustified military buildup on its borders.

“It would be really meaningful to have such weapons in the Baltic region. It would ensure a greater security for all our countries,” Lithuania’s President Dalia Grybauskaite told reporters, standing in front of Patriot missiles deployed as part of a two-week NATO exercise.

“We would gladly host them,” she said of the missiles. “We are always ready.”

Since Russia annexed the Crimean Peninsula from Ukraine in 2014 and began providing weapons and troops to separatist rebels in eastern Ukraine, NATO has stepped up its deployments in the Baltics, eastern Poland and around the Black Sea.

Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia, which were once ruled from Moscow but are now part of NATO and the European Union, are set to triple their defense spending by 2018, compared with 2014, in order to deal with any threats from Russia.

But with small militaries and limited budgets, the Baltics are reliant on help from allies for advanced capabilities, including long-range anti-aircraft weapons.

Earlier this month, the United States approved the possible sale of seven Patriot missile defense systems worth $3.9 billion to Romania.

Poland said it signed a memorandum with the United States to purchase Patriot missiles, having indicated earlier in the year it expected to buy eight for $7.6 billion.

Describing air defenses as “the weakest link” in NATO’s eastern flank, Grybauskaite called on the alliance to tackle the issue ahead of a NATO leaders summit in Brussels in July 2018.

However, she also left open the possibility of stationing the missile batteries out of the Baltics, as long as they were focused on protecting the region.

“As the Patriots have a very long range, it does not really matter where they are deployed, whether that is in the Baltics or in Poland, or somewhere else. What is important is the speed of response to any air threat,” she said.

The U.S. battery did not fire a shot in Lithuania during the exercises, which also involved troops from Britain, Poland and Latvia, a U.S. commander said.

But Baltic officials said the deployment demonstrated the willingness of United States to bring such advanced weaponry to the region, despite Moscow’s protests.

Russia says the North Atlantic Treaty Organization is increasing the risk of conflict in Europe, citing the alliance’s biggest modernization since the Cold War and a greater NATO troop presence in Eastern Europe.

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Ukraine Says 9 Soldiers Killed in East in Rebel Fighting

A spokesman for the Ukrainian military says nine soldiers died over the past day in the east where Ukrainian forces and Russia-backed rebels have been fighting for more than three years.

Although full-scale offensives in the war have ebbed, both sides report artillery fire or small clashes almost daily. The death toll reported Thursday by military spokesman Col. Andriy Lysenko was notably high for a single day.

 

Lysenko said four of the deaths came in tank and mortar fire near Krasnohorivka, in the Donetsk region. Another was killed in rebel firing in Novohorodske, also in the Donetsk region, he said.

 

In the Mariupol region long the Azov Sea, one soldier was killed in rebel fire, Lysenko said. Three others were killed by an explosive device there, Lysenko said but did not give details.

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‘Shame on You:’ Survivors of Tower Block Fire Berate London Council

Furious survivors of the London high-rise fire that killed at least 80 people booed the new leader of the local authority during chaotic scenes on Wednesday at the council’s first meeting since the blaze.

About 70 survivors of last month’s fire at the Grenfell Tower apartment block and other local residents gathered to protest as council members met amid tight security at Kensington Town Hall in north London.

The Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea council has been criticized by locals and politicians for its slow and ineffective response to the fire while many accuse the authority, which administers one of Britain’s wealthiest areas, of having turned its back on social housing.

“We did not do well enough in our initial response to the tragedy … tonight I want to reiterate my apology to you directly,” said council leader Elizabeth Campbell. “No ifs, no buts, no excuses. I am deeply sorry. We did not do enough to help you when you needed it most.”

Kensington’s previous leader Nicholas Paget-Brown resigned following his decision to abruptly suspend the last council meeting on June 29 when he said holding it in public could interfere with a future inquiry.

Campbell promised there would be a new direction at the council and that it would spend some of the 250 million pounds ($325 million) it held in reserve on new housing for those who had lived in Grenfell.

But her election was greeted with cries of “shame on you” and her subsequent speech was repeatedly interrupted by shouts and boos, while some residents who could not get into the meeting banged loudly on the council chamber doors.

After Campbell’s speech, a succession of survivors were invited to speak, many furiously berating the council for its failures.

Holding up the key to her Grenfell Tower apartment and weeping, Iranian national Mahboobeh Jamalvatan said: “Every time I look at this key, I wonder and I ask ‘what’s the difference between us human beings?’ We are all created human beings.

“The U.K. is accusing other countries about a lack of human rights, but there are lots of people from those counties living in the UK. Why don’t you care about human rights here?”

British police have said the final death toll from the blaze that gutted the 24-story building might not be known until next year.

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EU Closer to Sanctions on Poland Over Changes in Judiciary

The European Union is coming closer to imposing sanctions on Poland for the government’s controversial attempt to take control of the judiciary, a senior EU official warned Wednesday, as new street protests and heated debate erupted in the Polish parliament.

 

The ruling conservative and populist Law and Justice Party had been rushing to get parliament’s approval for a contentious draft law that would reorganize the nation’s highest court. But it has had to slow down after vehement objection from the opposition, alarm from the EU and mass peaceful protests against the measure.

 

After a tense debate in parliament, lawmakers on Wednesday voted overwhelmingly to send the draft bill on the Supreme Court for more work by a special parliamentary commission. Opposition legislators have proposed 1,300 amendments to the draft, which they say violates the constitution, kills judicial independence and destroys the democratic principle of the separation of the judiciary from the executive branch.

 

Crowds have held street protests in Warsaw and other cities in defense of democracy and judicial independence, chanting “Free courts!” and “Freedom, equality, democracy!” They urged President Andrzej Duda to veto the draft legislation.

 

It was the latest in a string of conflicts that has exposed the deepening political divide in Poland since Law and Justice won power in 2015.

 

The proposed bill calls for the immediate dismissal of the current Supreme Court judges, except those chosen by the justice minister. It would give the justice minister the power to appoint the key court’s judges.

 

In a proposed amendment, the Law and Justice has switched those powers to the president.

 

The ruling party, led by Jaroslaw Kaczynski, insists that its reforms will introduce “good change” expected by the people who voted them in. It also argues that the judiciary still works along communist-era principles and needs radical reforms and new people to be efficient.

 

The opposition says the changes to the judiciary are Kaczynski’s revenge on judges who have been critical of his policies.

 

Kaczynski, a lawyer, is currently Poland’s most powerful politician, controlling the government, the parliament and having influence on the president, even though he holds no government office.

 

The vote Wednesday was 434-6 with one abstention for a justice commission to review the draft law.

 

Shortly after the vote, European Commission Vice President Frans Timmermans said in Brussels that the EU may soon strip Poland of its voting rights because its recent steps toward the judiciary “greatly amplify the threat to the rule of law” and threaten to put the judiciary “under full political control of the government.”

 

Such a sanction, which was intended to ensure democratic standards in EU members, requires unanimity among all other member states. Timmerman said the dialogue between the EU and Poland should continue while the legislation is being worked on.

 

Poland’s parliament has already approved new laws that give lawmakers the power to appoint judges to the regulatory National Council of the Judiciary, and changed regulations for ordinary courts. All changes require the approval of Duda, who has so far followed the ruling party line.

 

Law and Justice has previously backed down under mass protests — including last year when it withdrew a proposed ban on abortions after a nationwide women’s strike.

 

The debate preceding Wednesday’s vote has led to some unpleasant exchanges in parliament.

 

An opposition lawmaker, Borys Budka, drew Kaczynski’s wrath when he implied that his late twin brother, President Lech Kaczynski, had prevented him previously from taking any drastic steps toward the justice system.

 

Kaczynski’s reaction was immediate and violent.

 

“Don’t wipe your treacherous mugs with the name of my late brother. You destroyed him, you murdered him, you are scoundrels,” Kaczynski shouted from the podium. He was referring to the 2010 plane crash that killed the president, his brother, which he blames on the former government of the Civic Platform party.

 

Poland’s former foreign minister and head of the Civic Platform, Grzegorz Schetyna, condemned the tone of the parliamentary debate.

 

“It shows that we are in some catastrophic place, not only regarding emotions, but also regarding the level of the public debate,” Schetyna said Wednesday.

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German-Turkish Tensions Rise Over Detention of German National in Turkey

Tensions between Germany and Turkey escalated Wednesday after Berlin summoned the Turkish ambassador to receive an official protest after Ankara arrested several human rights activists, including a German citizen. Berlin has warned that EU aid to Turkey could be at risk, putting in jeopardy a key migrant deal.

A Turkish court Tuesday ordered the detention of Peter Steudtner, a German national who was attending a human rights workshop in Istanbul and was among six rights activists held as part of an ongoing crackdown since a failed coup last year.

“The Turkish government needs to immediately and directly hear the German government’s outrage and incomprehension as well as its crystal clear expectations in the case of Peter Steudtner and, this time, without diplomatic niceties,” said Foreign Ministry spokesman Martin Schafer on the summoning of the ambassador.

“Absolutely unjustified,” said German Chancellor Angela Merkel in response to Steudtner’s detention. Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel cut short his vacation to deal with the increased diplomatic tension.

Steudtner is the 10th German national to be held in the ongoing crackdown. “Turkish-German relations at the moment are incredibly stained,” warns political columnist Semih Idiz of the al-Monitor website. “But under normal circumstances ambassadors should be withdrawn and doors slammed and this is not happening…”

EU aid for migrants in question

Along with Turkey being key to counterterrorism cooperation, it is acting as a gatekeeper on stemming the flow of migrants into Europe following an agreement with the European Union. More than one million migrants escaping war and persecution in Africa and the Middle East have crossed into Europe using irregular land and sea routes back in 2015, according to the International Organization for Migration.

Observers say the deepening crisis between Germany and Turkey could jeopardize $3.4 billion in EU aid, which is part of the migrant deal.

“Unfortunately we have constant cause to talk to Turkey about civil and press freedoms,” government spokesman Steffen Seibert told a news conference. “We think it is important to review aid in light of the latest developments.”

Tensions have been simmering for years between the two NATO allies; but, Berlin’s granting of asylum to dozens of Turkish diplomats and military personnel following the failed coup in July 2016 brought tensions to a boiling point.

International conspirators

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has repeatedly accused Berlin of aiding conspirators against him. Erdogan made reference to what he called international conspirators Saturday in a speech to mark the defeat of the attempted coup.

“There are so many enemies lying in ambush, unwilling to grant us the right of existence. If I name them one by one, we will be confronted by a very serious international crisis,” Erdogan said.

Germany has become a gathering point for Erdogan’s opponents, with opposition media, including a television station, broadcasting to Turkey. Erdogan has also criticized Berlin for failing to crack down on the activities of the Kurdish rebel group the PKK, which is fighting the Turkish state. Berlin refutes the allegations.

Suspicions are growing that detained German citizens are becoming pawns in the deepening crisis. “When you focus on individuals, especially foreigners detained, there is a sense imprisoning people is almost a form of blackmail, a form of bargaining,” said Emma Sinclair Webb, senior Turkey researcher for Human Rights Watch. Ankara dismisses any political motivation behind the detentions, maintaining that the judiciary is independent.

Germany moves planes

The war against Islamic State has also fallen victim to the increasingly acrimonious dispute. Germany is in the process of relocating its reconnaissance planes used against the jihadists from Turkey’s Incirlik air base, after Ankara stopped German lawmakers from visiting its personnel at the base. The dispute has now spread to German forces operating at the Turkish Konya airbase.

Analysts say Berlin, along with the rest of the EU, could be paying the price for more than a decade of all but freezing Ankara’s effort to join the regional bloc. Merkel has been one of most outspoken critics of the bid.

“There is very little stick that Europe has to wield against Turkey,” notes columnist Idiz. “Merkel appears to be in a weaker position. Erdogan is very bullish. He is very uncompromising and European leaders, including Merkel, don’t know how to handle him. So, Merkel looks embarrassed and that’s how Erdogan is playing it.”