Turkish President Recep 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, prompting a sharp warning from Berlin.
"I am calling on all my countrymen in Germany: the Christian Democrats, SPD, 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.
The comments, some of Erdogan's harshest yet against Merkel, drew a furious response from Merkel, her government and some Turkish organizations in Germany, illustrating the widening divide between the two countries.
"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 of the SPD 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 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, their current coalition partner and major rival.
Erdogan did not make it clear which German political party he would like people to support in the polls for the Bundestag.