BERLIN/ANKARA Turkish leaders will hold no further campaign rallies in Germany before Turkey's April 16 referendum, organizers said on Tuesday, after an ally of German Chancellor Angela Merkel said they were not welcome.
The announcement by the Union of European Turkish Democrats (UETD) underscored a sharp deterioration in relations between NATO allies Germany and Turkey ahead of the referendum on boosting the powers of Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan.
"We will not organize any further events with Turkish government officials before the referendum," UETD President Zafer Sirakaya told Germany's Wirtschaftswoche magazine. Sirakaya was not available for immediate comment but an UETD spokeswoman confirmed the quote as reported by the magazine.
In Turkey, an official with Erdogan's Islamist-rooted AK Party said it would still carry out some "referendum propaganda activities" in Europe this week, but would focus its efforts domestically within Turkey beginning next week.
A German foreign ministry source welcomed the news, saying it should allow a peaceful start to voting by some 1.4 million Turkish citizens living in Germany who are eligible to vote in the referendum. Voting will take place at 13 consulates and other sites around Germany from March 27 to April 9.
The unexpected news came after escalating tensions between Turkey and Germany over campaign appearances by Turkish officials seeking to drum up support for the vote.
Erdogan had accused Germany of using "Nazi" tactics after local officials, citing security concerns, canceled several campaign rallies by Turkish ministers in Germany. Merkel demanded Ankara halt the rhetoric, but Erdogan has repeated the message in speech after speech, including one on Tuesday.
"Enough is enough," Volker Bouffier, vice chairman of Merkel's Christian Democratic Union (CDU), said on Tuesday.
"Mr. Erdogan and his government are not welcome in our country, and that must be now be understood," Bouffier, who is also premier of Hesse state, told DLF radio.
German media have reported that Erdogan planned to visit Germany this month to rally support for the measure, but Berlin said it had not received a formal request for such a visit.
Bouffier said a visit by Erdogan would create security problems. "Someone who insults us in this way cannot expect that we will assemble thousands of police to protect him," he said.
Reiner Haseloff, another member of Merkel's CDU and premier of Saxony-Anhalt state, echoed Bouffier's criticism.
"Those who compare us to Nazis are not welcome. That is not acceptable," he told Die Welt newspaper in an interview published on Tuesday.
On Monday, Merkel again told Ankara stop the Nazi comparisons and said Berlin could block appearances by Turkish officials if they did not comply with German law, which explicitly forbids disparagement of the government.
Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel said Berlin would revoke permission for events that were already approved if Ankara did not respect the law against disparagement of the government.
EU Commission Vice President Frans Timmermans told reporters after a meeting with Gabriel that EU officials were united in rejecting the Nazi comparisons.
"President Erdogan's comments about Germany and the Netherlands are not allowed. We don't want to be compared to Nazis," he said.
The Netherlands, also home to a large ethnic Turkish diaspora, has been embroiled in a similar row with Turkey
On Tuesday, Erdogan repeated his criticism of Germany and other European countries, saying today's "fascist and cruel" Europe resembled the pre-World War Two era.
Erdogan also said Turkey could no longer be pressured by considerations such as a $6 billion migrant deal, under which it agreed to stop illegal migrants from crossing into Greece in exchange for financial aid and accelerated EU membership talks.
"They cannot threaten us with any of these things anymore," he said. "Let's first switch to the new system on April 16, then there will be a very different Turkey rising."
EU Commissioner Johannes Hahn told the Bild newspaper in an interview published on Tuesday that Turkey's prospects for joining the EU would be "increasingly unrealistic" unless it changed course and stopped moving away from European values.
Hahn said the EU had repeatedly voiced its concerns about the "increasingly authoritarian path of President Erdogan".
"Threats are no way to make policies. They make a reasonable dialogue impossible," he said.
(Reporting by Gernot Heller, Andrea Shalal, Andreas Rinke and Reuters TV in Berlin, and Tuvan Gumrukcu and Ece Toksabay in Istanbul; Editing by Tom Heneghan)