Turkey defies Netherlands over minister’s campaigning visit

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu vowed Saturday to visit the Netherlands to drum up support for a high-stakes constitutional referendum despite a Dutch refusal to cooperate.

The minister is pressing ahead with the trip even as a string of Turkish campaign events, aimed at gathering support the bid to boost President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s powers, have been cancelled in the Netherlands, Germany and elsewhere in Europe.

Moves to block the events came amid concern over Erdogan’s government campaigning in European towns and cities, particularly after a sweeping crackdown following last year’s failed coup raised human rights concerns.

Turkey has hit back hard at the cancellations, with Erdogan angrily comparing moves by local authorities in Germany to stop the rallies to “Nazi practices.”

“I am going to Rotterdam today (Saturday),” Cavusoglu told CNN-Turk television in an interview.

“We will impose heavy sanctions on the Netherlands” if the visit is blocked, he added.

Cavusoglu’s statement came after Dutch Foreign Minister Bert Koenders on Thursday said his country would “in no way” facilitate the planned visit.

The minister was pencilled in to address a planned rally in the port city of Rotterdam on Saturday.

“We will not participate in a visit by a Turkish government official who wants to conduct a political campaign for a referendum,” Koenders said.

Still, Cavusoglu was determined to go, saying: “If tensions will increase because of my visit, let them be.”

Rotterdam Mayor Ahmed Aboutaleb on Friday told reporters that the minister would not be allowed to hold a public rally.

“I’m responsible for public order and the Turkish cabinet knows that it will be forbidden,” Aboutaleb said.

Cavusoglu will not be barred from visiting Rotterdam “as a private person … but he will not be allowed to have a public gathering”, he warned.

The latest row came after NATO allies Turkey and Germany sparred over the cancellation of a series of referendum campaign events there.

Erdogan’s ministers are keen to tap into the diaspora in Germany, which includes 1.4 million people eligible to vote in Turkey — the fourth-largest electoral base after Istanbul, Ankara and Izmir.

Although Berlin insisted that the string of cancellations by local authorities were down to logistical reasons, Turkish officials repeatedly hit back, leading to Erdogan’s angry “Nazi” remark.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel said such rhetoric was “depressing,” belittled Holocaust victims and was “so out of place as to be unworthy of serious comment.”

Berlin has emerged as a strident critic of Ankara’s vast crackdown in the wake of the attempted putsch of last July, which has seen more than 100,000 people arrested, suspended from their jobs or sacked for alleged links to the plotters or to Kurdish militants.

Ankara has in turn accused Berlin of harbouring “terrorists” and failing to respond to requests to hand over suspects from the coup as well as Kurdish militants who it believes are members of the outlawed PKK group.

Elsewhere in Europe, Austrian Chancellor Christian Kern has called for an EU ban on Turkish politicians campaigning for the referendum.

And Swiss police on Friday blocked a rally supporting a “yes” vote in the referendum, amid uncertainty over whether the Turkish foreign minister would be allowed to host a similar event planned for Zurich this weekend.

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