German Chancellor Angela Merkel attends a news conference after talks with Armenia's President Serzh Sargsyan at the Chancellery in Berlin, Germany, April 6, 2016. REUTERS/Hannibal Hanschke/File Photo(reuters_tickers)
BERLIN (Reuters) - Germany's interior minister praised Turkey on Thursday for excellent cooperation in fighting terrorism in an apparent effort to defuse a dispute with Ankara after a leaked government memo accused Turkey of being a hub for Islamist militants.
The memo is a headache for Chancellor Angela Merkel, who been criticised by some German and European lawmakers for appearing to cosy up to Ankara to help stem a migrant flow into Europe, despite concern about its human rights record.
Just one year before a federal election, the leak of the report earlier this week by German public broadcaster ARD also unleashed recriminations within her right-left coalition.
Interior Minister Thomas De Maiziere said on Wednesday he did not regret the leak but on Thursday struck a conciliatory tone, saying exchanges of information with Turkey on movements of supporters of Islamic State militants were good.
"I can say that the cooperation with Turkish colleagues, security services, police and my colleagues is excellent," he said at a news conference about domestic security.
He also said it was "close to his heart" to emphasise how well Turkish authorities dealt with the investigation of a militant attack in Istanbul in January in which German tourists were killed.
The leaked government report said Turkey had become a hub for Islamist groups and that President Tayyip Erdogan had an "ideological affinity" to Hamas in Gaza, the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and groups of armed Islamist opposition in Syria.
The report was prepared by the Interior Ministry after a parliamentary request by the opposition Left party.
Turkey was incensed by the report; its Foreign Ministry said the allegations were "a new manifestation of the twisted mentality" that for some time has been targeting Erdogan and his government.
Relations with Germany are already strained due to parliament's adoption of a resolution declaring the 1915 massacre of Armenians by Ottoman forces a genocide. Earlier this year, Erdogan launched legal action against a German comedian who broadcast a satirical song about him on television.
De Maiziere, a conservative Christian Democrat, played down tensions within Merkel's coalition over the leak, although the Social Democrats have demanded that the government explain the report to parliament.
In addition, a spokeswoman for the Foreign Ministry, led by Social Democrat Frank-Walter Steinmeier, distanced itself from the report on Wednesday, saying the assessment was not its own.
(Reporting by Madeline Chambers; editing by Mark Heinrich)