Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Turkey’s president, on Sunday accused the Dutch government of behaving like Nazis, capping a weekend of high drama that began when the Netherlands refused to let his foreign minister’s plane land for a rally in the Turkish referendum campaign.
The dispute between the two Nato members reverberated across Europe after Denmark waded into the debate by cancelling a meeting between Lars Lokke Rasmussen, its prime minister, and Binali Yildirim, his Turkish counterpart. “With the current Turkish attacks on Holland the meeting cannot be seen separated from that,” Mr Rasmussen said.
The Dutch move to ban Mevlut Cavusoglu’s flight sparked protests by more than 1,000 people late on Saturday night outside the Turkish consulate in Rotterdam. Riot police responded with dogs and water cannon.
“Nazism is alive in the west,” Mr Erdogan said, repeating an insult he had directed at Germany last week after authorities there cancelled two of Mr Cavusoglu’s speeches, forcing him in Hamburg to address supporters from a consulate balcony.
Mr Erdogan called the Netherlands a “banana republic”, saying it would “pay the price” for its actions.
Nazism is alive in the west
Mark Rutte, Dutch prime minister, described Mr Erdogan’s comments as “bizarre” and “completely unacceptable”. He said he had tried to defuse the situation in eight calls with Mr Yildirim over the weekend, including one at 2am on Sunday.
The diplomatic spat comes just days before the Dutch general election. Mr Rutte has taken a tough stance on immigration to fend off a challenge from Geert Wilders, the Dutch anti-Islam candidate, who on Sunday called for Turks loyal to Mr Erdogan to be expelled from the Netherlands.
The bust-up means the often fraught debate about the Netherlands’ large Muslim minority will dominate the final few days of campaigning ahead of Wednesday’s vote.
In Turkey, where footage of Dutch riot police attacking protesters played on television in a loop, the crisis was a boon for Mr Erdogan’s referendum campaign. His party seized on the actions of the Dutch government to highlight to voters abroad the hypocrisy of western leaders in criticising his record on free speech while, at the same time, feting him over moves to stem the flow of refugees to European shores.
Nearly 1.5m Turks in Germany, alone, are eligible to vote in the April 16 referendum on Mr Erdogan’s constitutional reforms, making the expat community a vital bloc in a tight campaign.
Marine Le Pen, the French far-right presidential candidate, was quick to condemn Turkey, demanding an end to Turkish electoral rallies in France. Austria, Switzerland and Germany have also cancelled Turkish campaign events in recent days.
The Dutch consulate in Istanbul was surrounded by protesters on Sunday, including one who managed to plant a Turkish flag on its roof, despite a heavy police presence. The Dutch foreign ministry put out a statement reminding Turkey that it was responsible for the safety of Dutch diplomats in the country after the Dutch ambassador was told he was not welcome.
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