Istanbul (AFP) – Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Sunday warned the Netherlands would pay a price for preventing his ministers from holding rallies to win support in a referendum on expanding his powers, as a crisis escalated with Turkey’s key EU partners.
Erdogan also repeated hugely controversial accusations that the Netherlands — occupied by Nazi Germany in World War II — was behaving like fascists in its treatment of Turkish ministers.
Analysts are predicting a tight outcome to the April 16 referendum on a new constitution and key Turkish ministers have planned major rallies in key EU cities to win votes from millions of Turks residing abroad.
But Turkey’s Family Minister Fatma Betul Sayan Kaya was expelled after being prevented from addressing a rally in the Dutch port city of Rotterdam.
Also this weekend, The Hague refused to allow Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu’s plane to land ahead of a planned rally.
“Hey Holland! If you are sacrificing Turkish-Dutch relations for the sake of the elections on Wednesday, you will pay a price,” an angry Erdogan told a ceremony in Istanbul, referring to the March 15 election in Turkey’s NATO ally.
“They will learn what diplomacy is,” he growled, adding that what happened “cannot remain unanswered.”
Erdogan reaffirmed his accusations from Saturday that the Dutch behaviour over the Turkish visits was “Nazism, fascism”.
Speaking at a rally in the French city of Metz — which was allowed to go ahead — Cavusoglu described the Netherlands as the “capital of fascism”.
– ‘West shows true face’ –
Faced with an upsurge in support for the far-right, European governments have come under pressure to take a hard line on Erdogan, who is accused by critics of seeking one-man rule in the constitutional changes.
Danish Prime Minister Lars Lokke on Sunday called on his Turkish counterpart Binali Yilirim to delay a planned March visit because of the “tensions”.
Police clashed with pro-Erdogan demonstrators in the Netherlands overnight while in Istanbul on Sunday a man climbed onto the roof of the Dutch consulate and replaced the Dutch flag with a Turkish flag.
The flag was later taken down and Turkish officials insisted the consulate had not been entered from the outside and “consular officials” had hoisted the flag on their own initiative. The consulate declined to comment.
A Dutch foreign ministry spokeswoman told AFP that the situation “remains unclear” and the Netherlands had “protested to the Turkish authorities” over the incident.
The latest row came after NATO allies Turkey and Germany sparred over the cancellation of a series of referendum campaign events there.
“The West has clearly shown its true face in the last couple of days,” Erdogan said.
“What we have seen is a clear manifestation of Islamophobia,” he added.
The president indicated that he himself plans to travel to Europe for rallies, a move that could potentially create an even greater row.
Erdogan said: “I can go to any country I want if I have a diplomatic passport.”
In Metz, Cavusoglu was welcomed by some 800 flag-waving Turks. French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault said in a statement there was “no reason to prohibit this gathering”.
“I thank France. France was not deceived by such games,” Erdogan said.
In a later speech outside Istanbul, Erdogan called on “all international organisations” to impose sanctions on the Netherlands, who he said was behaving “like a banana republic”.
– ‘Rough treatment’ –
Kaya, who was stopped just outside the Turkish consulate in Rotterdam by Dutch police and, after several hours of negotiations, escorted back to the German border, received a hero’s welcome upon return to Turkey.
Arriving at Istanbul airport, Kaya was met by a crowd waving Turkish flags and said she and her entourage had been subjected to “rude and tough treatment”.
The diplomatic row triggered clashes in Rotterdam, where after several hours of calm demonstrations, police moved in early Sunday to disperse over 1,000 people gathered near the Turkish consulate, charging the crowd on horseback and using dogs to regain control.
Protesters hit back, throwing rocks at riot police, while hundreds of cars jammed the streets blaring their horns and revving their engines.
The Dutch government said Kaya was “irresponsible” for attempting to visit after being told she was not welcome, and Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte said “it was undesirable that she was here.”
The Netherlands is home to some 400,000 people of Turkish origin while Germany has 1.4 million people eligible to vote in Turkey — the fourth-largest electoral base after the cities of Istanbul, Ankara and Izmir.
In Wednesday’s polls Rutte faces a strong challenge from the party of far-right anti-Islam MP Geert Wilders.