Bomb threat in German town after Turkish rally scrapped

Berlin: A small German town said it had received a bomb threat Friday, a day after blocking a rally by Turkey’s justice minister to promote a referendum on expanding President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s powers.

“We received a bomb threat by phone at around 7:30 am (0630 GMT),” Dieter Spannagel, a local official from the western town of Gaggenau, said.

“The caller cited the cancellation of the event with the Turkish justice minister as a reason.”

Investigators were searching the city hall, which had been evacuated, said mayor Michael Pfeiffer, who added the process could take several hours.

The town of about 30,000 inhabitants on Thursday withdrew an agreement to lease a hall to the Union of European Turkish Democrats (UETD) for a rally, with Justice Minister Bekir Bozdag as the guest speaker.

Gaggenau authorities said a large number of visitors were expected as the event had been widely publicised, but that the town did not have the capacity to host such a big crowd.

“The Bad Rotenfels hall (in Gaggenau), parking lots and road access are insufficient to meet that demand,” they said.

The decision was met with an angry response from Ankara, with Bozdag himself saying he was also scrapping talks with Germany’s Justice Minister Heiko Maas, whom he had been due to meet during the trip.

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu on Friday accused Germany of working for a “no” vote ahead of the April referendum that would discard the post of prime minister for the first time in Turkey’s history.

Germany is home to about three million people of Turkish origin, the legacy of a massive “guest worker” programme in the 1960s and 70s. It is the biggest population of Turks in the world outside Turkey.

Erdogan’s government is keen to harness their votes for the April 16 referendum.

Critics say the new presidential system will cement one-man rule in the country.

Turkish politicians have sparked controversy over their visits to Germany to hold political rallies, particularly at a time when Berlin-Ankara relations are frayed by a series of disputes since the failed coup that aimed to oust Erdogan last July.

The latest issue dogging ties has been Ankara’s provisional detention of a German journalist on terrorism-related charges.