German Chancellor Angela Merkel stressed the importance of a free media and freedom of opinion in talks with Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan on Thursday, during a visit meant to help bolster frayed ties between the two Nato allies.
In her first trip to Ankara since Turkey's failed coup last July, Merkel said she had discussed Syria and Iraq with Erdogan and that they had agreed on the need for closer cooperation in the fight against terrorism.
Asked about concern among Erdogan's opponents over proposed constitutional changes that would bolster the Turkish president's powers, expected to be put to a referendum in April, Merkel stressed the need for freedom of expression.
"With the (attempted) putsch, we saw how the Turkish people stood up for democracy and for the rules of democracy in Turkey," she told a news conference, sitting next to Erdogan.
"That is exactly why, in this decisive phase, it is important that freedom of opinion is upheld and in connection with this, we talked about press freedom," she said.
Allies including Germany fear Erdogan is using the coup attempt as a pretext to curtail dissent.
"Opposition is part of democracy," Merkel said.
Erdogan said he expected to receive the constitutional change bill from parliament on Thursday or Friday. Once he approves it, the electoral commission will officially set the date for the referendum, expected to be in early April.
"It is out of the question for the separation of powers to be abolished," Erdogan said of the proposals, which would replace Turkey's parliamentary system with an executive presidency.
"It gives more opportunity for the executive branch to work more swiftly. The judiciary will retain its power and function as usual with the new system," he said.
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