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Rival rallies as Erdogan opens Cologne mosque

Visitors gather in front of the newly built DITIB central mosque in Cologne, western Germany, prior to its official opening on Sept 29. The inauguration will be the closing event of the three-day state visit of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, aimed at repairing frayed ties with Berlin after two years of tensions.(AFP)

COLOGNE, Germany, Sept 29, (Agencies): Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan wrapped up an illtempered visit to Germany on Saturday with a visit to Cologne, where a security lockdown kept supporters and protesters away from a ceremony to open the country’s largest mosque.

Police snipers were stationed on rooftops and the area was cordoned off after the city authorities cancelled plans for up to 25,000 people to be allowed to gather outside the mosque, built by an Islamic religious organisation that has close ties to the Turkish state.

Germany had invited Erdogan for the three-day state visit in an attempt to mend ties hit by a crackdown on his opponents following a failed coup in 2016, hoping to secure the release of several of its citizens who remain in detention. Chancellor Angela Merkel said after meeting Erdogan on Friday that “deep divisions” remain.

On Saturday in Cologne, the Turkish leader sought to strike a conciliatory note. “In a critical period, we have made a fruitful, successful visit to Germany,” he told guests at the opening of the Central Mosque. “I stressed that we need to put aside our differences and focus on our common interests.” Yet he also called on Germany to crack down on Kurdish separatists, and complained that soccer star Mesut Ozil had been hounded out of the German national team after Germany’s World Cup exit because of his Turkish roots.

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