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Tensions rising between Turkish, European leaders before elections

March 13,2017 00:07

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said the Netherlands should be sanctioned for refusing to allow Turkish government ministers to address election rallies there. The dispute threatened to escalate when the Danish Prime Minister entered the fray ...

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said the Netherlands should be sanctioned for refusing to allow Turkish government ministers to address election rallies there.The dispute threatened to escalate when the Danish Prime Minister entered the fray, suggesting he may put off a scheduled visit to Denmark by his Turkish counterpart.Protests broke out in Turkey and the Netherlands at the weekend as the standoff deepened.Erdogan is campaigning hard in the runup to a referendum in April that would expand his powers. Since a coup attempt last July, Erdogan has cracked down on opposition -- particularly journalists, academics and the public sector. Erdogan is keen to rally the roughly 4.6 million expatriate Turks living in Western Europe, many of whom will be permitted to vote in the Turkish referendum. The Dutch government is struggling to hold off a strong challenge from the anti-immigrant Party of Freedom, headed by Gert Wilders, in elections on Wednesday. Concerns about immigration have been a central issue in the campaign. Political leaders in the Netherlands and Denmark worry that the presence of Turkish ministers could stir up tensions in their countries.On Saturday the Netherlands barred a plane carrying Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu from entering the country, citing security concerns. Cavusoglu was on his way to address expats in Rotterdam in support of the Turkish referendum. The Dutch also stopped Turkey's family affairs minister from entering the Turkish consulate in Rotterdam. Erdogan likened the Dutch actions, which follows similar moves in Germany, Austria and Switzerland, to those of the Nazis. "Nazism is still widespread in Europe, " he said.The Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte said the remarks were inflammatory and demanded an apology. The Netherlands lost more than 200,000 of its citizens when it was occupied by Nazi Germany in World War II. A Turkish diplomatic source told the Anadolu news agnecy that Dutch diplomatic missions in Ankara and Istanbul had been closed off due to security concerns. Meanwhile, the agency reported, the Turkish Foreign Ministry has told the Dutch ambassador, who is presently on leave out of the country, he need "not return for a while."Danes side with NetherlandsAmid Sunday's diplomatic turmoil, Danish Prime Minister Lars Løkke Rasmussen suggested a future visit from his Turkish counterpart was under threat. "Under normal circumstances it would be a pleasure for me to greet Prime Minister (Binali) Yildirim in Copenhagen," Rasmussen said. "But with the current rhetorical attacks by Turkey against the Netherlands, a new meeting cannot be seen isolated from that."The Danish government is observing developments in Turkey "with great concern as democratic principles are under considerable pressure," he said."A meeting right now would be interpreted as if Denmark is viewing developments in Turkey more mildly, which is not at all the case." The prime minister's office said Danish representatives and Turkish officials had been discussing the possible meeting for several weeks. It would have been scheduled for later this month in Denmark.Tensions with GermanyThe Netherlands isn't the first nation Erdogan has accused of Nazism. Germany became a target of Erdogan's Nazi comparisons after canceling Turkish ralliesl this month. Some 1.5 million Turkish nationals living in Germany are eligible to vote in the referendum, according to Anadolu."I thought Nazism was over but I was wrong," Erdogan said at the International Goodness Awards in Istanbul on Sunday. "What we saw in the last couple of days in Germany and Netherlands are the reflections of Islamophobia." Turkey is overwhelmingly Sunni Muslim.Chancellor Angela Merkel issued a sharp rebuke, saying such comparisons serve only to belittle Nazi crimes. German-Turkish relations have on the slide recently. Last month a Die Welt journalist Deniz Yucel was arrested on terrorism charges. Turkey bristled last year when Germany's parliament declared the 1915 massacre of hundreds of thousands of Armenians "genocide."Erdogan's referendumNext month, Turkish voters will cast ballots in a constitutional referendum that could change their government structure. If passed, it would transform the country's parliamentary system into a presidential one, effectively consolidating the power of three legislative bodies into one executive branch under Erdogan. Critics call the move anti-democratic and say it's indicative of Erdogan's drift toward authoritarian rule since the coup attempt eight months ago. Erdogan and his Justice and Development Party, or AKP, ministers have said those who oppose it stand with the coup plotters and terrorists. European governments have been especially critical of Erdogan's commitment to basic freedoms since the coup. The country jailed more journalists than any other country in 2016, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists. Also, nearly 140 media outlets have been shuttered, more than 41,000 people have been arrested and about 100,000 workers have been dismissed from public service positions. Facebook, YouTube, Twitter interrupted during uprisingAffording Turkey some leverage in the international spat is its key role in a Syrian migrant deal in which Turkey will resettle one refugee for every refugee resettled in Europe. In November, responding to European Union freezing EU membership talks with Turkey, Erdogan threatened, "If you go too far, the border gates will be opened," according to Anadolu.Dutch elections In the Netherlands, far-right politician Geert Wilders praised the decision to bar the Turkish minister from entering the country and credited his own party for the decision.The Netherlands is heading for a nationwide vote Wednesday, with concerns about Muslim immigration a central issue. Riding a populist wave that ushered Donald Trump into the Oval Office and the UK out of Europe, Wilders' Party of Freedom, or PVV, had been poised to win more House of Representatives seats than Prime Minister Mark Rutte's People's Party for Freedom and Democracy, or VVD. Polls have changed in recent weeks, but they still predict a tight race. CNN's Elizabeth Roberts and Simon Cullen in London, and Hande Atay Alam in Atlanta contributed to this report.

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