FRANKFURT AM MAIN, Germany — The German city of Wiesbaden removed Wednesday a temporary statue of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan set up in a town square by artists, after it sparked confrontations between his supporters and opponents.
“In agreement with state police, Mayor Sven Gerich decided to have the statue removed as security could no longer be guaranteed,” the city’s government said on Twitter.
Firefighters arrived shortly after midnight with a crane to lift the four-meter (13-feet) tall golden effigy of Erdogan from the central German Unity Square, where it had been placed on Monday as part of Wiesbaden’s Biennale art festival.
Organizers had hoped the statue would provoke public debate relevant to this year’s theme of “bad news.”
Since a failed 2016 coup attempt in Ankara, Erdogan’s crackdown on political opponents and journalists — including some German nationals — has been closely followed in Germany, home to a sizeable Turkish minority.
The statue, which had been posed to point boldly into the distance, was quickly defaced with insults like “Turkish Hitler.”
A “slightly aggressive atmosphere” developed, a police spokesman told the DPA news agency, while city councilor Oliver Franz told the Wiesbadener Kurier newspaper that verbal confrontations had escalated into scuffles and “bladed weapons were spotted.”
“We put up the statue to discuss Erdogan,” Wiesbaden city theater chief Eric Laufenberg told DPA.
“In a democracy, we have to put up with all kinds of opinions.”
But Emil Saenze, a local representative of far-right, anti-immigrant party Alternative for Germany (AfD) blamed the outcry on “stupidity” by the organizers, who had “given a stage to a despot who spends his time humiliating Germans.”
The statue was reminiscent of a life-size golden statue of Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu which was erected in Tel Aviv’s Rabin Square in 2016 and quickly toppled by a passerby hours after it was erected overnight.
That statue was erected by sculptor Itay Zalait who said he sought to “test the boundaries of free speech in Israel in 2016.”
The work was intended to get people to think, he said. “I also want to look at the public’s interaction with it, at where people take it.”
A year ago a gold statue of Supreme Court President Miriam Naor mysteriously appeared outside the courthouse in Jerusalem.
The statue, bedecked in gold spray and put on a decorative pedestal, ringed by velvet ropes on a street corner near the court in the capital, was erected as a political protest by right-wing groups.