ANKARA Germany's decision to grant asylum to Turks accused of participating in last year's failed coup has further heightened tension between the two NATO allies, Turkey's prime minister said on Tuesday.
German officials said last week that 414 Turkish citizens with diplomatic passports and other government work permits had requested asylum in Germany since the attempted putsch, which prompted Ankara to launch sweeping purges of the military, judiciary, civil service and others.
Asylum requests had been approved from a number of Turkish applicants with diplomatic passports, Germany's interior ministry has confirmed, although it declined to comment on media reports that soldiers were among those.
Turkey blames supporters of the U.S.-based Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen, for the coup attempt, in which more than 240 people died. Gulen, who lives in self-imposed exile in the United States, has denied the charges and condemned the coup.
"If Germany wants to improve ties with Turkey, then it has to turn towards the Turkish Republic and not separatists and members of FETO," Prime Minister Binali Yildirim said in a speech to members of his ruling AK Party in parliament. Ankara has dubbed Gulen's network "FETO", shorthand for "Gulenist Terror Organisation".
"Germany's decision to grant asylum to putschist soldiers is an important development that will add more tension to our relations," he said, in comments broadcast live on television.
Relations between Ankara and Berlin deteriorated sharply in the run-up to an April 16 referendum in Turkey on expanding President Tayyip Erdogan's powers. The strained ties raised questions about the future of some German troops stationed in Turkey.
On Monday, Chancellor Angela Merkel said Germany could move troops now based in Turkey's Incirlik air base to another country if Ankara persisted in denying German lawmakers permission to visit them.
Some 250 German troops are stationed at Incirlik, contributing to the U.S.-led mission targeting Islamist State militants in neighbouring Syria. Turkish foreign ministry sources told Reuters a visit by German parliamentarians would not be appropriate at this time, without elaborating.
Citing public safety concerns, Germany banned Turkish politicians from addressing rallies of expatriate Turks, prompting Erdogan to accuse Berlin of "Nazi-like" tactics. A narrow majority of Turks in the referendum backed changing the constitution to grant Erdogan sweeping executive powers.
Germany and other Western allies have voiced concern about what they fear is a drift towards authoritarian rule in Turkey.
(Editing by David Dolan and Ralph Boulton)