Erdogan seeks support from Turks abroad

BERLIN (AP) — Turkey's Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan sought support from the largest Turkish diaspora community for his ruling party Tuesday, ahead of upcoming presidential elections.

Speaking to a crowd of several thousand at Berlin's Tempodrom arena, Erdogan denied recent allegations of corruption and cited the economic progress Turkey has made under his leadership over the past decade.

Some 3 million people with family ties to Turkey live in Germany, and about half of them are believed to hold Turkish passports, making them potential voters in this year's presidential elections. Hours earlier Erdogan met with German Chancellor Angela Merkel to discuss his country's progress in joining the European Union.

Merkel told reporters afterward that she supports opening the sections of Turkey's membership negotiations that address justice and human rights "as soon as possible." Those sections are particularly sensitive at the moment because of Turkey's crackdown last year against opposition groups, and a recent corruption scandal that resulted in the replacement of police officials involved in the investigation.

Turkish news reports said this move by Erdogan thwarted a second probe that sought to question his son and other people. Turkey's talks on joining the 28-nation EU began in 2005 but are barely moving — mainly due to Turkey's dispute with EU member Cyprus and unease among some in the bloc about admitting a populous, largely Muslim country.

Merkel has long opposed full Turkish EU membership, but she has governed since 2005 in a series of coalitions that were divided over the issue. Her government's policy is to support the talks but stress that membership isn't a foregone conclusion.

"This process is open in terms of results and is not time-limited," she said Tuesday. "We will move forward step by step. It is no secret, and nothing has changed in my position, that I am rather skeptical about full membership for Turkey," she said. "But that doesn't need to bother us at this point."

Merkel's third-term government recently agreed to relax citizenship laws for Turks born in Germany so that they don't have to choose between Turkish and German passports by their 23rd birthday. On Tuesday, the two leaders announced that Turks in Germany will be able to take part in August's Turkish presidential elections at polling stations in seven German cities.

Suzan Fraser in Ankara, Turkey, contributed to this report.

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