Rotterdam (Netherlands) (AFP) – Protests erupted in the Dutch port city of Rotterdam late Saturday outside the Turkish consulate amid a row with Ankara after Dutch authorities banned the visits of Turkish ministers.
More than 1,000 people waving Turkish flags gathered on the street leading to the consulate, AFP correspondents saw, as tensions rocketed over rallies abroad to help Ankara gain backing for an April referendum vote.
There was a large police presence, but the crowd, many also sporting badges with the picture of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, remained largely calm, chanting and shouting.
“The people are very angry tonight. They feel that their freedom of expression has been denied. We are demonstrating because we want to hear our ministers speak,” Said Marti, 50, from Rotterdam, told AFP.
Tensions flared after Dutch authorities early Saturday refused Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu’s plane permission to land for a rally to gather support for a controversial April referendum.
Instead, Turkey’s Family Minister Fatma Betul Sayan Kaya reportedly made the journey overland from the German city of Dusseldorf to Rotterdam, Turkey’s official Anadolu news agency said.
Turkish television reported that Kaya was stopped by Dutch police some 30 metres (yards) short of the consulate in Rotterdam.
“We’ve been here for about four hours. We were not even offered water,” she told the NTV television channel. “(Dutch) police are not allowing me to enter the consulate. “
“I was told to leave the country and return to Germany as soon as possible,” she added. “I will not leave unless I am allowed to meet even for five minutes with our citizens,” she said.
Another protestor said: “This is the first time in 40 years that I have attended a demonstration. But I felt I should come out to show my support.”
Asking not to be identified, the 40-year-old from Arnhem said more people were on their way to demonstrate from other countries such as Belgium, Germany and France. “This is not going to stop,” he added.
The Dutch public broadcaster NOS said police were planning to escort Kaya back to the border with Germany.
The police would not confirm anything to AFP, and calls to the Dutch foreign ministry for comment went unanswered.
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 referendum on creating an executive presidency.
But the protests have raised tensions in The Netherlands just four days ahead of the country’s general election.