German president in Turkey as immigration debate simmers

19th October 2010, Comments 0 comments

German President Christian Wulff began talks with Turkish leaders Tuesday as debate simmered in his country on how Muslim immigrants, many of them Turkish, should be integrated.

Wulff met Turkish counterpart Abdullah Gul before talks later with Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Turkey's highest Muslim religious official, Ali Bardakoglu.

The first German president to visit Turkey in a decade, Wulff was also to address the Turkish parliament.

His four-day visit comes just days after Chancellor Angela Merkel said Germany's efforts to create a multi-cultural society had failed and urged immigrants to integrate, learn German and adopt German culture and values.

In remarks to Turkey's mass-selling Hurriyet daily, Wulff singled out the language problem as the most pressing.

"The basis of the solution of many problems depends primarily on learning German. Only this will open all doors of our education system (so that immigrants can) benefit from the opportunities," he said in remarks published Tuesday.

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.

In a weekend interview, Turkey's Gul had also urged Turkish immigrants to master the German language.

"When one doesn't speak the language of the country in which one lives that doesn't serve anyone, neither the person concerned, the country, nor the society," he told the Suedeutsche Zeitung.

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.

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

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

Although traditionally close, Turkish-German ties have been overshadowed by Merkel's opposition to Ankara's candidacy.

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.

On the economic front, Germany remains Turkey's principal 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 visit will also take him to Kayseri, a booming industrial city in central Turkey, the nearby Cappadocia region famous for its cone-shaped rock formations and the historic St 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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