VIENNA (Reuters) - Austria accused Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan of electioneering and stirring up trouble on Thursday when he urged thousands of cheering supporters in Vienna to respect their adopted country but reject ‘assimilation’.
Austrian leaders had appealed to Erdogan not to undermine their efforts to integrate the Turkish community of more than a quarter of a million in his address at a 10th anniversary rally of the Union of European Turkish Democrats.
Erdogan received a rock star’s welcome in a converted Vienna ice rink, with thousands waving Turkish flags and singing his name. Some wore T-shirts with his picture and the slogan “The Sultan of the World”.
Critics staged two counter-demonstrations in Vienna.
“No to assimilation, yes to integration,” Erdogan told the throng. “You will learn to speak fluent German and will carry your relations with the Austrian community to an excellent level but you will not be assimilated.”
It was a repeat of the message the AK party leader had delivered last month to Turks in Germany, and one that did not go down well in Vienna.
Austrian Foreign Minister Sebastian Kurz, who had expressly warned Erdogan via interviews in tabloid newspapers not to encourage Turks to distance themselves from the wider community, criticized the latest comments.
“These show very clearly that the Turkish premier has brought the election campaign to our country and created unrest with this,” he told reporters.
“We reject this. And I can only say that respect for a host country looks clearly different.”
Austrian far-right leader Heinz-Christian Strache had already told Erdogan to stay home rather than deliver “a pure propaganda campaign for his Erdoganistan”.
Erdogan is widely expected to be his party’s candidate for presidential elections in August, and expatriate Turks have become a significant bloc of voters after changes to the electoral system allowed them to cast votes abroad.
Around 268,000 people of Turkish origin live in Austria, according to government figures, of whom nearly 115,000 are Turkish citizens.
Reporting by Michael Shields and Angelika Gruber in Vienna and Nicholas Tattersall in Istanbul; Editing by Mark Trevelyan