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Tensions Escalate Between Turkey, Netherlands After Turkish Ministers Barred From Rallies

Protesters shout slogans and wave Turkish national flags in front of the Dutch Consulate in Istanbul on March 12.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has warned that the Netherlands would "pay the price" after expelling a Turkish minister and preventing Ankara's top diplomat from landing ahead of planned political rallies.

During a live televised address on March 12, Erdogan reiterated his earlier comments, accusing the Dutch government of "Nazism and fascism," saying only those types of governments would bar foreign ministers from travelling within their countries.

"I thought Nazism was dead, but I was wrong. Nazism is still widespread in the West," he said. "The West has shown its true face," Erdogan said at an awards ceremony in Istanbul.

Erdogan thanked France, which allowed Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu to address Turkish citizens at a rally in the city of Metz on March 12.

On March 11, the Dutch government barred the aircraft carrying Cavusoglu from landing, saying it had withdrawn permission because of "risks to public order and security" caused by Cavusoglu's proposed visit to the Dutch city of Rotterdam.

Later on the day, Turkish Family Affairs Minister Fatma Betul Sayan Kaya was expelled from the Netherlands after being barred from entering the Turkish Consulate in Rotterdam.

The two ministers had planned to address rallies in support of a Turkish referendum planned next month that would give Erdogan increased presidential powers.

European Diaspora

The Netherlands, along with several major European cities, has banned rallies by senior Turkish politicians to promote the referendum among members of Turkey's European diaspora.

The incidents sparked protests in both countries and angry reactions by Turkish officials.Early on March 12, police used dogs and water cannon to disperse hundreds of protesters waving Turkish flags outside the consulate in Rotterdam.

Some threw bottles and stones at riot police and several demonstrators were beaten by police with batons. Officers carried out charges on horseback.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan gestures as he addresses supporters in Istanbul on March 12.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan gestures as he addresses supporters in Istanbul on March 12.

In Turkey, a protester entered the Dutch Consulate's premises in Istanbul on March 12 and replaced the country's flag with the Turkish flag, the DHA news agency reported. The Dutch flag has since been returned to its original place, the report said.

Erdogan reacted angrily to the blocking of the foreign minister's plane, threatening to respond in kind against Dutch diplomats and describing the Dutch as "Nazi remnants" and "fascists."

It was the second time in a week that Erdogan has used the word "Nazi" in criticism about one of Turkey's NATO allies, having accused Germany on March 5 of "Nazi practices" for withdrawing authorizations for Turkish campaign rallies.

Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte responded, telling reporters that Erdogan had made "a crazy remark," which was "way out of line."

Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte (file photo)
Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte (file photo)

However, Rutte said on March 12 said he would do everything to "de-escalate" the tensions, which he described as the worst the Netherlands had experienced in years.

But Rutte said the idea of apologizing to Turkey was "bizarre." Rutte was referring to a comment by the Turkish foreign minister, who said the Netherlands should apologize over the incidents.

"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?" Rutte told a morning talk show on March 12.

Other Rallies Canceled

Austria and Switzerland have also canceled Turkish rallies. On March 12, the owner of a venue in Sweden where a senior official from Turkey's ruling party had been due to hold a rally cancelled the rental contract, Turkish media reported.

Through the rallies, Turkish politicians seek to attract the votes of the Turkish community in Europe ahead of the April 16 vote on whether to boost Erdogan's powers.

The Netherlands is home to some 400,000 people of Turkish origin, while 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.

Relations between Turkey and the European Union have deteriorated in recent months, with Erdogan angry at criticism from EU members for waging a mass crackdown on opponents since he saw off a coup attempt last July.

With reporting by AFP, AP, dpa, and Reuters
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