ANKARA/ROTTERDAM (Reuters) - President Tayyip Erdogan said on Sunday the Netherlands was acting like a “banana republic” and should face sanctions for barring Turkish ministers from speaking in Rotterdam, fuelling a row over Ankara’s political campaigning abroad.
Erdogan is looking to the large number of Turks living in Europe, especially in Germany and the Netherlands, to help secure victory next month in a referendum that would give the presidency sweeping new powers.
In a speech in France, Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu described the Netherlands as the “capital of fascism” as it joined other European countries in stopping Turkish politicians holding rallies, due to fears that tensions in Turkey might spill over into their expatriate communities.
The Dutch government barred Cavusoglu from flying to Rotterdam on Saturday and later stopped Family Minister Fatma Betul Sayan Kaya from entering the Turkish consulate there, before escorting her out of the country to Germany.
Dutch police used dogs and water cannon on Sunday to disperse hundreds of protesters waving Turkish flags outside the consulate in Rotterdam. Some threw bottles and stones and several demonstrators were beaten by police with batons, a Reuters witness said. Mounted police officers charged the crowd.
The Dutch government - set to lose about half its seats in elections this week, according to polls, as the anti-Islam party of Geert Wilders makes strong gains - said the visits were undesirable and it would not cooperate in their campaigning.
“I call on all international organisations in Europe and elsewhere to impose sanctions on the Netherlands,” Erdogan said, after his prime minister earlier said Turkey would retaliate in the “harshest ways”, without specifying how.
“Has Europe said anything? No. Why? Because they don’t bite each other. The Netherlands are acting like a banana republic,” Erdogan said in a speech in Kocaeli province, near Istanbul.
A day earlier, Erdogan described the Netherlands as “Nazi remnants” and returned to the theme on Sunday by saying “Nazism is still widespread in the West” in what Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte said were inflammatory remarks.
“We ended up in a totally unprecedented situation in which a NATO ally...with whom we have historic ties, strong trade relations, is acting in a totally unacceptable, irresponsible manner,” Rutter told reporters.
Rather than the Netherlands apologising for refusing the Turkish ministers entry, Turkey’s president should apologize for comparing the Netherlands to fascists and Nazis, he said.
The row risked spreading on Sunday as Denmark’s Prime Minister Lars Lokke Rasmussen proposed postponing a planned visit by Yildirim this month due to the dispute.
The French foreign ministry urged calm and said there had been no reason to prohibit a meeting in France between Cavusoglu and a local Turkish association.
Supporting Rutte’s decision to ban the visits, the Dutch government said there was a risk of Turkish political divisions flowing over into its own Turkish minority, which has both pro- and anti-Erdogan camps.
The diplomatic row comes in the run-up to next week’s Dutch election in which the mainstream parties are under strong pressure from Wilders’ Party for Freedom (PVV).
Experts said it was too early to tell how events in Rotterdam might affect the election. “If there is any impact, however, it is likely that Geert Wilders and his PVV Party will profit most,” said Leiden University professor of electoral research Joop van Holsteijn.
After Turkey’s family minister was escorted into Germany, Wilders tweeted: “go away and never come back”.
The Dutch government cited public order and security worries in withdrawing landing rights for Cavusoglu’s flight and Turkey fired back saying the Dutch ambassador to Ankara should not return from leave “for some time”.
Hundreds of protesters gathered outside the Dutch embassy in Ankara and consulate in Istanbul. Police sealed off both sites.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel has said she will do all she can to prevent Turkey’s domestic tensions spreading onto German territory. Austria and Switzerland have also cancelled Turkish rallies due to the escalating dispute.
European Parliament Vice President Alexander Graff Lambsdorff demanded a ban on Turkish ministers campaigning in the EU.
“The European Union should agree on a line that Turkish ministers are not allowed to campaign in the EU,” he said.
“The Dutch are showing how it is done, the German government pussyfoots around ... in that way Turkey can try to play one country off the other,” he told Die Welt newspaper.
Additional reporting by Yesim Dikmen in Istanbul, Orhan Coskun and Tulay Karadeniz in Ankara, Anthony Deutsch and Toby Sterling in Amsterdam, Teis Jensen in Copenhagen, Madeline Chambers in Berlin, Maya Nikolaeva and Marine Pennetier in Paris,; Writing by Daren Butler and Tuvan Gumrukcu; Editing by Greg Mahlich