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FILE PHOTO: Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan attends an interview with Reuters at the Presidential Palace in Ankara, Turkey, April 25, 2017. REUTERS/Umit Bektas/File Photo(reuters_tickers)
By Paul Carrel
BERLIN (Reuters) - Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan is putting at risk vital and long-established relations with Germany, Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble said in an interview published on Monday.
Relations, already strained over Erdogan's security crackdown since a coup attempt against him a year ago, have deteriorated further over the arrest in Turkey of six rights activists, including one German, two weeks ago.
"He is jeopardising the centuries-old partnership," Schaeuble said of Erdogan."It is dramatic, as there is really a lot that connects us. But we can't allow ourselves to be blackmailed," the minister said in an interview with daily Bild.
Chancellor Angela Merkel's chief of staff has said Turkey's behaviour was "unacceptable" and Germany has a duty to protect its citizens and companies, but also wanted to maintain strong relations.
Adding to the tensions is Turkey's refusal to let German lawmakers visit soldiers stationed at two air bases.
"It worries me that we have a NATO country that forbids visits by other NATO members," Volker Kauder, head of Merkel's conservative bloc in parliament, told broadcaster ARD.
"This is an intolerable situation and we must say clearly to Turkey: this is not on."
Asked whether EU accession talks with Turkey could be pursued or talks on updating the customs between them continued, Kauder replied: "Both points are of course means of pressuring Turkey. We know that Turkey has considerable economic problems."
The chairman of Germany's parliamentary defence committee, Wolfgang Hellmich, told daily Die Welt: "The government should take a clear stand and say: we are setting a deadline of end-August, then there must be a decision."
For historical reasons, Germany's armed forces are under parliamentary control, and Berlin insists parliamentarians must have access to its soldiers. Turkey's refusal to let lawmakers visit one air base led to Berlin relocating those troops to Jordan.
In a move by Turkey to ease tensions, it said it was not requesting German help in investigating German firms suspected of backing terrorism, a German Interior Ministry spokesman said.
"(The Turkish interior minister) underscored that there were no investigations against German firms by Turkish authorities in Turkey or in Germany," Tobias Plate said, adding that Ankara's submission of a list of nearly 700 companies through Interpol had stemmed from "a communications problem".
Turkish Deputy Prime Minister Mehmet Simsek told German business daily Handelsblatt German companies were welcome and "should have no reason to worry."
"I want to assure German business that German companies are not subject to investigation for financing terrorism by the Turkish authorities," he said.
Germany has warned nationals travelling to Turkey that they did so at their own risk, and Schaeuble was quoted on Friday as comparing Turkey with the former communist East German state, the German Democratic Republic.
(Writing by Paul Carrel; Editing by Robin Pomeroy)