Erdogan tells Dutch: We are no longer pals

Analysts say Mr Erdogan, seen here speaking at a ceremony in Turkey on Thursday, wants to be seen as standing up to Europe so that he can attract nationalist votes ahead of a referendum at home on constitutional changes.
Analysts say Mr Erdogan, seen here speaking at a ceremony in Turkey on Thursday, wants to be seen as standing up to Europe so that he can attract nationalist votes ahead of a referendum at home on constitutional changes.PHOTO: REUTERS

Turkish President also accuses EU's top court of starting a 'crusade struggle' against Islam

ISTANBUL • Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has accused the European Union of starting a "crusade" against Islam and said his country is no longer friends with the Netherlands.

Turkey and the EU are locked in their most explosive row in years after Germany and the Netherlands blocked Turkish ministers from campaigning for a "yes" vote in an April referendum on expanding Mr Erdogan's powers.

Ankara has expressed dismay over the rise of the anti-immigrant far right in Europe, but showed no pleasure over Wednesday's election win by liberal Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte.

On Thursday, the Turkish President accused the EU's top court of starting a "crusade struggle" against Islam after a ruling allowing European companies to ban employees from wearing political or religious symbols - including the Islamic headscarf.

"Europe is swiftly rolling back to the days before World War II," he said in a televised speech.

Dutch voters on Wednesday returned Mr Rutte's liberals to power, seeing off a challenge from the anti-Islam party of Mr Geert Wilders.

But, embittered by a Dutch move to block Turkish ministers from holding rallies several days earlier, Mr Erdogan offered no congratulations, instead saying the Netherlands had lost a friend.

"Hey Rutte! You may have emerged as the No. 1 party in the election but you must know that you have lost Turkey as your friend," he said.

Earlier, Turkey's top diplomat Mevlut Cavusoglu said there was "no difference" between Mr Rutte's liberals and the "fascist" Mr Wilders. Mr Cavusoglu predicted the start of "religious wars" in Europe, saying the bloc was being pushed to the edge of "the cliff" by the rise of the far right.

The row erupted at the start of the month when several German towns refused to allow political rallies at which Turkish ministers and officials were due to campaign.

The German city of Hanover on Thursday also barred a rally by the Union of European Turkish Democrats at which a senior official from Mr Erdogan's ruling AKP party was to speak.

An Austrian concert hall also cancelled a Turkish music event over its "political" nature, citing the performers' links to Turkish nationalists who are allied with the AKP.

But the mayor of the Dutch city of Rotterdam approved a pro-Turkish protest scheduled for midnight yesterday (Singapore time), over the police's handling of clashes that erupted outside the Turkish consulate last Saturday.

Over the past fortnight, the row has escalated, with Mr Erdogan repeatedly accusing Dutch and German politicians of acting like "Nazis" and claiming the "spirit of fascism" is rampant in Europe.

Analysts said he wants to be seen as standing up to Europe so he can sweep up nationalist votes ahead of the April 16 referendum on constitutional changes.

But his rhetoric has raised questions about the continuation of Turkey's half-century bid to join the EU. However, Mr Cavusoglu said in an interview with the HaberTurk broadcaster late on Thursday that there was "no reason" for Turkey to "move away from Europe".

French President Francois Hollande and German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Thursday issued a joint statement denouncing as "unacceptable" Mr Erdogan's remarks on Nazism and his aggressive statements against Berlin and other EU nations.

Turkey has also raised alarm in Brussels by threatening to unilaterally scrap a 2016 agreement that has substantially reduced the flow of migrants to the EU.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 18, 2017, with the headline 'Erdogan tells Dutch: We are no longer pals'. Print Edition | Subscribe