ISTANBUL: Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan warned the Netherlands it would pay a price for preventing top ministers from holding rallies ahead of a referendum on expanding his powers, as a crisis escalated with Turkey’s key EU partners. Erdogan renewed hugely controversial accusations that the Netherlands – occupied by the Germans in World War II – was behaving like the Nazis in its treatment of Turkish ministers. Analysts are predicting a tight outcome to the April 16 referendum and key Turkish ministers have planned major rallies in key EU cities to win votes from millions of Turks resident abroad. But Turkey’s Family Minister Fatma Betul Sayan Kaya was expelled after being prevented from addressing a rally in the Dutch port city of Rotterdam. Also this weekend, The Hague refused to allow Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu’s plane to land ahead of a planned rally. “Hey Holland! If you are sacrificing Turkish-Dutch relations for the sake of the elections on Wednesday, you will pay a price,” an angry Erdogan told a ceremony in Istanbul, referring to the March 15 election in Turkey’s NATO ally. “They will learn what diplomacy is,” he growled, adding that what happened “cannot remain unanswered.” Faced with an upsurge in support for the ultra-right, European governments have come under pressure to take a hard line on Erdogan who is accused by critics of authoritarianism. Erdogan reaffirmed his accusations from Saturday that the Dutch behaviour over the Turkish visits was “Nazism, fascism”. Police clashed with pro-Erdogan demonstrators in the Netherlands overnight while in Istanbul on Sunday a man climbed onto the roof of the Dutch consulate and replaced the Dutch flag with a Turkish flag. The flag was later taken down and Turkish officials insisted the consulate had not been entered from the outside and “consular officials” had hoisted the flag on their own initiative. The consulate declined to comment. A Dutch foreign ministry spokeswoman told that the situation “remains unclear” and the Netherlands had “protested to the Turkish authorities” over the incident.
The latest row came after NATO allies Turkey and Germany sparred over the cancellation of a series of referendum campaign events there. “The West has clearly shown its true face in the last couple of days,” Erdogan said. “What we have seen is a clear manifestation of Islamophobia,” he added. The president indicated that he himself plans to travel to Europe for rallies, a move that could potentially create an even greater row. Erdogan said: “I can go to any country I want if I have a diplomatic passport.” Cavusoglu, meanwhile, is set to address a rally in the eastern French city of Metz. The French foreign ministry has cleared his visit, a French official said. “I thank France. France was not deceived by such games,” Erdogan said. Kaya was stopped just outside the Turkish consulate by Dutch police, and after several hours of negotiations escorted back to the German border. Kaya was given a hero’s welcome by a crowd waving Turkish flags as she landed at Istanbul airport, saying she and her entourage were subjected to “rude and tough treatment”. The controversy sparked clashes in Rotterdam where after several hours of calm demonstrations, police moved in early Sunday to disperse over 1,000 people gathered near the Turkish consulate, charging the crowd on horseback and using dogs to regain control. Protesters hit back, throwing rocks at riot police, while hundreds of cars jammed the streets blaring their horns and revving their engines. The Dutch government said Kaya was “irresponsible” for attempting to visit after being told she was not welcome and Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte said “it was undesirable that she was here.” The Netherlands is home to some 400,000 people of Turkish origin, and Ankara is keen to harness votes of the diaspora in Europe ahead of the April 16 constitutional referendum on creating an executive presidency. The Turkish government argues the changes would ensure stability and create more efficient governance, but opponents say it would lead to one-man rule and further inflame tensions in its diverse society.
Germany is home to 1.4 million people eligible to vote in Turkey – the fourth-largest electoral base after the cities of Istanbul, Ankara and Izmir. Some 250 Turks gathered outside the Dutch consulate in Duesseldorf in a spontaneous demonstration on Saturday night, German police said Sunday, adding that “there were no incidents”. Reuters adds: Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte said he would do everything to “de-escalate” the confrontation, which he described as the worst the Netherlands had experienced in years. But he said the idea of apologising was “bizarre”. “This is a man who yesterday made us out for fascists and a country of Nazis. I’m going to de-escalate, but not by offering apologies. Are you nuts?” he told a morning talk show. In a statement issued early on Sunday, Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim said Turkey would retaliate in the “harshest ways”. Turkey fired back saying the Dutch ambassador to Ankara should not return from leave “for some time”. German Chancellor Angela Merkel has said she will do all she can to prevent Turkey’s domestic tensions spreading onto German territory. Austria and Switzerland have also cancelled Turkish rallies due to the escalating dispute. A senior member of her conservative bloc in parliament, Hans Michelbach, demanded on Sunday that the EU stop aid to Turkey and ruled out any hopes that it would join the EU. “There is no prospect of entry in the long run. Turkey is getting further and further away from the European Union. Support programmes (that it gets as an EU candidate) are therefore a waste of taxpayers’ money,” he said in a statement. “It is time that the EU stops performing like a diplomatic paper tiger towards Ankara. Europe must not be led by the nose round the Turkish election arena.” In a sign the row could spread further, the owner of a venue in Sweden where a senior official from Turkey’s ruling party had been due to hold a rally on Sunday cancelled the rental contract, Turkey’s private Dogan news agency reported. The news agency said the owner had not given a reason for their decision.
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