German leader sends Turks conciliatory immigration message

19th October 2010, Comments 0 comments

Germany's president urged Turks and Germans Tuesday to see they "are closely connected" as he sought to ease a simmering debate on whether Berlin had failed in efforts to integrate Muslim immigrants.

"We have to realise that we are closely connected," Christian Wulff, the first German president to visit Turkey in a decade, told reporters after talks with his Turkish counterpart Abdullah Gul.

"We are old friends.... The things that connect us are much more than the things that keep us apart," he said.

Wulff travelled to Turkey just days after Chancellor Angela Merkel said Germany's efforts to create a multi-cultural society had failed and urged immigrants -- many of them Turks -- to integrate, learn German and adopt German culture and values.

Germany has four million Muslims among its 82 million inhabitants, with 2.5 million Turks forming the largest ethnic minority.

While many later-generation Turks have integrated with German society, large sections have never learned German and live in closed communities.

Gul renewed a call on Turkish immigrants to learn the German language, but stressed that "instead of using the integration problem politically, everybody must help find a solution."

He added that few Turks were immigrating to Germany today, stressing that "even a reverse migration has started."

The debate in Germany flared after central banker Thilo Sarrazin said that Germany's 16 million people with an immigration background were making the country "more stupid."

There have also been concerns that Muslim failure to integrate is helping to create homegrown Islamic extremists in Germany.

"Multikulti", the concept that "we are now living side by side and are happy about it," does not work, said Merkel, who faces a tough series of state elections next year, on Saturday.

"This approach has failed totally," she said. "We feel tied to Christian values. Those who don't accept them don't have a place here."

Next Wednesday, Merkel's cabinet will adopt "concrete" new measures on immigration policies, addressing German language courses and combating forced marriages, a government spokesman said in Berlin Monday.

Turkey's struggling bid to join the European Union was also on Wulff's agenda in Ankara.

The German president praised Turkey's growing role in regional affairs, while reiterating Berlin's position that the country's EU accession talks were open-ended and did not guarantee full membership at the end.

Along with French President Nicolas Sarkozy, Merkel argues that Turkey has no place in Europe and should settle for a "privileged partnership" instead of full membership -- a proposal that Ankara categorically rejects.

Wulff was to meet also with Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Turkey's highest Muslim religious official, Ali Bardakoglu, and address the Turkish parliament later Tuesday.

Despite political differences, Germany remains Turkey's principal economic partner: bilateral trade amounted to 23.8 billion dollars (17 billion euros) in 2009, with more than 4,000 German companies operating or having partnerships in Turkey.

Wulff's four-day visit was to take him also to Kayseri, a booming industrial city in central Turkey, the nearby Cappadocia region famous for its cone-shaped rock formations and the historic Saint Paul's Church in the southern town of Tarsus.

He will also visit Istanbul to meet Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I, the spiritual leader of the world's Orthodox Christians, and lay the foundation of a Turkish-German university before leaving Friday.

© 2010 AFP

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