Berlin says Turkey has stepped up spying in Germany

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu meets his German counterpart Sigmar Gabriel in Berlin, Germany, March 8, 2017. Cem Ozdel/Turkish Foreign Ministry Press Office/Handout via Reuters (Reuters)

BERLIN (Reuters) - The German government said on Wednesday there had been a significant increase in Turkish spying in Germany, where tensions within the large Turkish community have escalated ahead of next month's referendum on Turkey's presidency. The BfV domestic intelligence agency said divisions in Turkey leading up to the April 16 referendum on boosting the powers of President Tayyip Erdogan were mirrored in Germany. At the same time, strained relations between Germany and Turkey, which soured after a failed army bid last July to overthrow Erdogan, reached a new low this month in a row over Turkish political rallies to drum up support in the referendum. "The BfV is observing a significant increase in intelligence efforts by Turkey in Germany," it said in a statement. No further details were provided. Germany's chief federal prosecutor launched an investigation in January into possible spying by clerics sent to Germany by Ankara. Bfv President Hans-Georg Maassen underscored his concern over tensions between right-wing Turks in Germany and supporters of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK). "There is the danger that these proxy fights between PKK supporters and nationalist, right-wing extremist Turks will escalate because there is a high, hard-hitting potential for danger in both groups," he said. Maassen did not specifically address the issue of Turkish spying. He told reporters in January that Germany would not tolerate Turkish intelligence operations within its borders. German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel on Wednesday met his Turkish counterpart Mevlut Cavusoglu in Berlin and said Turkey's internal fights should not be imported into Germany. (Reporting by Sabine Siebold, Writing by Andrea Shalal; Editing by Dominic Evans)