German state curbs work with Islamic group with ties to Turkey

September 6, 2016 12:14 PM EDT

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BERLIN (Reuters) - A German state has stopped working with the country's biggest Muslim association, which has strong links to Ankara, on a project to prevent radicalization due to a row over a comic that it said glorified martyrdom.

The state of North Rhine-Westphalia (NRW) said it had ended cooperation on the project with the Turkish-Islamic Union for Religious Affairs (DITIB) in Cologne.

A spokesman for the state's Interior Ministry said on Tuesday it had asked DITIB to make a clear it did not agree with an illustration in a comic, published in Turkey by the religious authority Diyanet earlier this year.

German media reproduced what it said was the image in question, with a translation of the Turkish.

It depicted a conversation between a father and son which ended with the exchange: "Daddy, is it worthwhile to become a martyr?" and "Of course, my dear! Who doesn't want to go to paradise?"

In a statement, DITIB said the publication was linked to a day to commemorate soldiers who had died, especially in World War One in Gallipoli, and other victims of war.

"We .. have stressed that it can certainly be debated whether such a subject is educationally sensible. We have also stressed that representing violence or the effects of violence in a way that glorifies it must be completely avoided," it said.

The Koranic term "martyr" is used in Turkey to refer to soldiers killed in battle, particularly in the conflict with Kurdish insurgents and other militant groups. Official designation as a martyr means the families of the deceased receive compensation from the state.

Critics say the term glorifies conflict.

A spokesman for the NRW Interior Ministry said: "We expected DITIB to clearly distance itself from this. That did not happen so our cooperation (in this project) has ended."

He said that while cooperation had stopped with DITIB on the "Signpost" program, designed to stop young Muslims being recruited by militants, they were still working together on other issues such as Islam teaching in schools.

DITIB denies it is steered by the Turkish government. It operates through about 900 associations across Germany, most of which are mosques with imams sent by Turkey.

Some senior German politicians have in the past few months called for a rethink of ties between the German authorities and DITIB which have built up over some 30 years.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel has drawn criticism for cozying up to Erdogan to help tackle the migrant crisis.

Tensions in Germany's Turkish community of about 3 million people are also mounting between supporters of Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan and his foes especially after July's attempted coup.

The decision to end the project, made in June, has come to light because of an answer by NRW Interior Minister Ralf Jaeger to a question from two regional lawmakers.

(Reporting by Madeline Chambers; Editing by Erik Kirschbaum and Alison Williams)

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