Berlin: Germany's Angela Merkel agreed to allow prosecutors to pursue a case against a German comedian who mocked Turkey's President Tayyip Erdogan, prompting accusations that she had failed to protect free speech and dividing her ruling coalition.
Erdogan had demanded that Germany press charges against Jan Boehmermann after he recited a poem about the Turkish leader in a show on German public broadcaster ZDF on March 31, suggesting he hits girls, watches child pornography and engages in bestiality.
A section of the German criminal code prohibits insults against foreign leaders but leaves it to the government to decide whether to authorise prosecutors to pursue such cases.
This put Merkel in an awkward position. She has been the driving force behind a controversial European Union deal with Turkey to stem the flow of refugees into Europe and critics have already accused her of ignoring violations of human rights and press freedoms in Turkey to secure its co-operation.
The chancellor made clear in a statement that the decision to allow prosecutors to investigate was not a verdict on the merits of the case itself.
But she came under fire from the Social Democrats (SPD), her centre-left coalition partner, which had wanted the Turkish request to be rejected. With her cabinet split on the matter, Merkel had the casting vote.
"We are of the view that the authorisation for prosecution ... should not have been granted," Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier and Justice Minister Heiko Maas, both Social Democrats, said in a joint statement.
Boehmermann's lawyer, Christian Schertz, said Merkel's decision was "completely unnecessary", noting that Erdogan had already filed a separate legal complaint against Boehmermann.
Presenting her decision in a televised statement, Merkel said: "Turkey is a country with which Germany has close and friendly ties."
Omer Celik, spokesman for Turkey's ruling AK party, defended Merkel's decision.
"Without a doubt this is the right decision," Celik told broadcaster TRT Haber. "This is an insult against our nation and state. That person's statements on that television channel were not criticism but direct insult."
Kai Diekmann, publisher of Germany's mass-selling daily newspaper Bild, responded with a commentary under the headline "In Erdogan's Hand" in which he asked: "Has Germany, with the Turkey deal, made itself susceptible to blackmail?"
Diekmann added: "When (the chancellor) travels to Turkey next week, she must say to her host's face how terrible things are in Turkey with freedom of opinion and of the press."
Merkel travels to Turkey with top EU officials on April 23.
Sahra Wagenknecht, of the far-left Linke party, accused Merkel of kowtowing to the "Turkish despot" Erdogan.