German president tries to defuse immigration row in visit to Turkey

08:36, October 20, 2010      

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German President Christian Wulff sought to defuse a heating row over the integration problems of Muslim immigrants in Germany during his visit to Turkey on Tuesday, saying Turks and Germans should boost friendship and resolve the problems together.

At a joint press conference with Turkish President Abdullah Gul here, Wulff said Germany and Turkey are eager to further boost their existing friendly relations, with plans to establish a new Turkish-German university in the Turkish city of Istanbul and sign a partnership agreement between German state of Hessen and Turkish province of Bursa.

Wulff's visit came as Germany-Turkey relations were overshadowed by increasing debate over the integration of immigrants in Germany, which is home to about 4 million Muslims, among whom 2.5 million are Turks.

The debate heated up after German Chancellor Angela Merkel said last week Germany's attempt to create a multi-cultural society had failed, a statement widely seen as a gesture to cater to her conservative partners as her coalition government is suffering its lowest popularity and she herself was facing strong challenges from within her own party.

Nonetheless, the speech fanned the already hot debate ignited this summer by Thilo Sarrazin, who was dismissed from the German central bank's governing board in September after claiming that Jewish and Muslim immigrants were unwilling or incapable of integrating into western societies for cultural and religious reasons.

In a national speech earlier this month, Wulff said "he is also the president of Muslims in Germany," sparking domestic criticism.

On Tuesday, Wulff defended his remarks, saying "we should accept diversity," while urging immigrants to learn German better and respect the life style of Germans.

Many immigrants had successfully integrated in Germany, but Germans' fears over "religious fundamentalism and terrorism" could not be ignored, he said.

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