By Bulent Usta
ISTANBUL (Reuters) - Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan on Friday said German Chancellor Angela Merkel's Christian Democrats were enemies of Turkey and called on Turks in Germany to vote against major parties in next month's elections.
The comments, some of Erdogan's harshest yet against Merkel, drew a furious response from Merkel, her government and some Turkish organisations in Germany, illustrating the widening divide between the NATO allies and major trade partners.
"I am calling on all my countrymen in Germany: the Christian Democrats, SDP, the Green Party are all enemies of Turkey. Support those political parties who are not enemies of Turkey," Erdogan said after Friday prayers in Istanbul, urging ethnic Turks in Germany to "teach a lesson" to those parties.
Ties between Ankara and Berlin have been strained in the aftermath of last year's failed coup as Turkish authorities have sacked or suspended 150,000 people and detained more than 50,000 people, including German nationals.
"We will not tolerate any kind of interference," said Merkel in response at a campaign event in the western city of Herford, while her foreign minister Sigmar Gabriel described the remarks as "unprecedented" interference with Germany's sovereignty.
Germany has voiced concern that Erdogan is using the coup as a pretext to quash dissent. Erdogan, an authoritarian leader whose roots are in political Islam, has accused Germany of anti-Turkish and anti-Muslim sentiment.
Gabriel urged ethnic Turks to use their vote regardless. "Let's show those who want to set us against each other that we are not playing their game," he added. Community leader Atila Karaborklu accused Erdogan of wanting to divide Germany's Turkish communikty.
Germans go to the polls on Sept. 24 for elections where Merkel is running for a fourth term. Her conservatives enjoy a comfortable lead over the Social Democrats (SPD), their current coalition partner and major rival.
Western governments, particularly Germany, have expressed apprehension at Erdogan's tightening grip on power. In April, Turks narrowly backed a referendum to change the constitution and grant Erdogan sweeping executive powers.
In the run-up to the referendum, German authorities prevented Turkish politicians from speaking to rallies of Turkish citizens in Germany, infuriating Ankara.
Turkey also blocked Berlin lawmakers from visiting their troops stationed in southern Turkey. The troops were later relocated to Jordan.
Merkel has also said there would be no expansion of a customs union or deepening in EU-Turkish ties, comments which infuriated Turkey.
(Additional reporting by Tuvan Gumrukcu, Ece Toksabay, Thomas Escritt and Andreas Rinke; Writing by David Dolan; Editing by Dominic Evans and Matthew Mpoke Bigg)