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Erdogan Calls Dutch ‘Nazi Remnants’ After Turkish Minister Is Barred

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President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey at a rally in Istanbul on Saturday. He threatened to retaliate against the Netherlands for denying the foreign minister permission to fly in.

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Ozan Kose/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

PARIS — The Dutch government on Saturday intensified a diplomatic dispute between Turkey and its NATO allies in Europe by refusing to let the Turkish foreign minister fly into the Netherlands to campaign on behalf of a referendum that would augment the power of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey.

In response, Mr. Erdogan compared the Dutch to “fascists” and “Nazi remnants,” echoing the description he used for the Germans last Sunday, after two Turkish politicians campaigning for Mr. Erdogan scrapped rallies when the German government told them it could not guarantee their safety.

Mr. Erdogan accused Germany of using “Nazi practices” to block him from campaigning, drawing a rebuke from the German chancellor, Angela Merkel, who called the comparison “completely unacceptable” and said the remarks trivialized the suffering of the Nazis’ victims.

In the Netherlands, Prime Minister Mark Rutte posted a government statement on his Facebook page that said Turkey had sabotaged discussions between the two countries over the visit of the foreign minister, Mevlut Cavusoglu, to Rotterdam. Turkey then threatened sanctions, the statement said, making “a reasonable solution impossible.”

Many European governments actively oppose the efforts by Mr. Erdogan to expand his power and say he has shown dictatorial tendencies by imprisoning thousands of people after a coup attempt last year. The list includes journalists, human rights workers, political opponents and many Kurds — people seen as a threat to his power.

The Turkish leader is eager to campaign in Europe to bolster the referendum’s chances because millions of Turks live there, principally in Germany and France. An estimated 400,000 Turks reside in the Netherlands, according to the Dutch government.

The votes of European Turks on the referendum, scheduled for April, could make the difference between Mr. Erdogan’s gaining more power or being checked by his people.

This debate is playing out on many levels, both for Turks and for the Dutch, with the subtext being whether the referendum is acceptable to a majority of Turks living in the Netherlands who have two passports and two identities.

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The Netherlands said that the Turkish foreign minister, Mevlut Cavusoglu, had warned of sanctions if his visit was blocked.

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Steffi Loos/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

“The Dutch-Turkish society here is still with one leg in their mother country,” said Enis Odaci, the deputy editor of the Nieuwwij news website.

“And now Erdogan comes along and asks loyalty. He says, ‘Give me your vote because you are Turkish people,’ not Dutch-Turkish, German-Turkish or French-Turkish. And that is very, very delicate in the international debate about Islam and integration and migration.”

Mr. Odaci, whose father came to the Netherlands from Turkey decades ago, added: “Dutch politics and politicians are questioning how can you contribute to this Dutch society, but you are still willing to vote for a man who is heading toward a dictatorship or a theocracy. What the Dutch are asking is: ‘Can you have two loyalties? Can you have two identities?’”

Another factor playing into the Dutch response is the nation’s parliamentary elections on March 15, in which Mr. Rutte’s party is running slightly ahead of Geert Wilders’s far-right Party for Freedom, which opposes immigration and campaigns against any overt signs of Islam in Dutch society.

Mr. Wilders vocally opposed the Turkish visit in recent days, and Mr. Rutte, who is trying to maintain his narrow lead, soon took the same line. Now other Dutch politicians are voicing their approval of the government’s latest move.

After the Netherlands withdrew permission for Mr. Cavusoglu to fly into the country, Mr. Erdogan said at a rally in Istanbul on Saturday, “Ban our foreign minister from flying however much you like, but from now on, let’s see how your flights will land in Turkey.”

Negotiations to hold a rally in the Netherlands on behalf of the Turkish referendum broke down, and Austria, Germany and Switzerland banned similar gatherings where Turkish officials were to speak. Whether blocking the campaigning will achieve the Dutch politicians’ goal, however, is not clear.

Mr. Odaci, the editor, said that in a way, the Dutch handed Mr. Erdogan a weapon with which to rally Dutch-Turks from afar by declaring them second-class citizens deprived of freedom of speech.

Some of Mr. Erdogan’s opponents, however, have noted that while the Turkish president is vigorously defending his right to free speech in Europe, he is eroding that right for Turks at home.

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