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Germany's Merkel 'appalled' by Turkey's response to protests

German Chancellor Angela Merkel walks on a dyke by the swollen river Elbe during a visit in Hitzacker June 12, 2013. REUTERS/Fabrizio Bensch
German Chancellor Angela Merkel walks on a dyke by the swollen river Elbe during a visit in Hitzacker June 12, 2013. REUTERS/Fabrizio Bensch

BERLIN (Reuters) - German Chancellor Angela Merkel said on Monday she was shocked at Turkey's tough response to anti-government protests but she stopped short of demanding that the European Union call off accession talks with the candidate country.

"I'm appalled, like many others," Merkel said of Turkey's handling of two weeks of unrest that began over a redevelopment project in an Istanbul park but has grown into broader protest against Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan's government.

"I would like to see those who have criticism, who have a different opinion and a different idea of society, having some space in a Turkey that moves into the 21st century," Merkel told German broadcaster RTL.

Asked whether Ankara's response to the protests was in line with the way an EU accession candidate should act, Merkel said: "What's happening in Turkey at the moment is not in line with our idea of the freedom to demonstrate or freedom of speech.

"They are terrible images. ... I can only hope that the problems will be solved peacefully," she said in the German TV interview, which was due to be aired later on Monday.

EU politicians are divided on whether interrupting accession talks would help or hamper Turkey's democratization process.

EU officials say Germany is reluctant to open a new area of negotiation with Turkey this month. Berlin denies any direct link with the latest events but the foreign ministry says talks that began in 2005 were going to be a "very, very long process".

Merkel has backed Turkish accession talks while at the same time expressing skepticism about its future EU membership.

Speaking just before departing for a Group of Eight summit in Northern Ireland, Merkel reiterated her position that Germany would not arm rebels fighting Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

The G8 summit was set for a clash between U.S. President Barack Obama, who is now ready to send weapons to Syrian rebels, and Russia's Vladimir Putin, who backs the Syrian government.

"We do not supply weapons ourselves. We do not contribute to that. That's against our rules," Merkel said. "Russia must play a role in the process. Otherwise there will be no peace."

(Reporting by Annika Breidthardt; Editing by Stephen Brown)

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