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Erdogan says Bulgaria's pressure on Turks 'unacceptable'

ANKARA (Reuters) - Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan slammed Bulgaria on Thursday for “putting pressure” on expatriate Turks living there ahead of a parliamentary election amid rising tension between the two neighbors.

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan makes a speech during a meeting in Istanbul, Turkey, March 19, 2017. REUTERS/Murad Sezer

Bulgaria votes in parliamentary elections on Sunday. Last week, its caretaker government summoned Turkey’s envoy to Sofia and also recalled its ambassador to Turkey for consultations.

Prime Minister Ognyan Gerdzhikov said this was to “prevent any attempts by Turkey to influence an election”.

Bulgaria also expelled a Turkish citizen and banned two others from entering the country, after reports a Turkish minister had campaigned for the DOST party that represents Bulgarian Turks, the country’s largest ethnic minority.

“I am calling on Bulgaria. I am calling to our kin and brothers there ... It seriously upsets us to see and hear that pressure is being exerted there,” Erdogan said at a conference in Ankara.

Bulgaria’s ethnic Turks are estimated to total more than half a million in a total population of 7.2 million. More than 400,000 Bulgarian nationals live in Turkey, most of them Bulgarian Turks descended from Ottoman-era Turkish settlers in the Balkans.

“On the one hand you say democracy, on the other you are putting pressure on Turks. This is unacceptable. On the one hand you talk of the EU legal acquis, on the other you do the exact opposite. This cannot be,” Erdogan said, using the European Union’s term for its body of existing laws.

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Bulgarian President Rumen Radev later responded by saying his country would not accept democracy lessons from Turkey.

“Bulgaria does not give, but also does not accept lessons in democracy, especially from countries that do not respect rule of law,” Radev told reporters.

“I want to assure you that the election in Bulgaria will pass smoothly. Bulgaria is a European country that follows its laws, not others’ emotions,” he said.

Bulgaria called Sunday’s early parliamentary elections after former Prime Minister Boiko Borisov resigned in November following his party’s loss in presidential polls.

Erdogan’s comments come on the heels of an escalating row between Turkey and its European allies over the barring of campaigning among Turkish expatriates in Germany and the Netherlands to drum up support for a referendum in April that would increase his powers.

Erdogan has angered the Germans and Dutch after repeatedly accusing his them of “Nazi methods” over the bans, leading to a sharp deterioration in ties with the European Union, which Turkey still officially aspires to join.

Reporting by Tuvan Gumrukcu; Additional reporting by Tsvetelia Tsolova; Editing Tom Heneghan and Toby Chopra