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Erdogan: Germany acting like Nazis by blocking referendum rallies

Erdogan accused German authorities of not 'respecting opinion and thought' by blocking rallies ahead of 16 April ballot
Erdogan gives a speech during the women's rally in Istanbul on Sunday (AFP)

Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan compared the German government to Nazis on Sunday, lashing out over a decision to block several planned rallies there aimed at boosting support for an extension of his presidential powers. 

"Your practices are not different from the Nazi practices of the past," Erdogan told a women's rally in Istanbul, ahead of referendum on 16 April on whether to approve changes to the constitution.

"I thought it's been a long time since Germany left [Nazi practices]. We are mistaken," he said.

Several German towns prevented appearances by Erdogan's ministers last week, citing security and safety concerns.

The cancellations have infuriated the Turkish government, which accused Berlin of working against the "Yes" campaign in the referendum and summoned the German ambassador to the foreign ministry in protest.

"You will lecture us about democracy and then you will not let this country's ministers speak there," said an angry Erdogan, adding that Germany was not "respecting opinion and thought".

Chancellor Angela Merkel on Saturday called Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim to try to defuse the row, and the two countries' foreign ministers are set to meet later this week.

Erdogan was speaking to a crowd of thousands of women who had gathered at a pro-government rally in Istanbul to mark International Women's Day on 8 March.

Waving Turkish flags, women shouted "Of course, Yes!" ahead of the vote on constitutional changes that would give Turkey an executive presidency similar to political systems in France or the United States.

Erdogan's ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) is running the "Yes" campaign, saying the changes would bring political stability.

The vote is widely seen as a referendum on Erdogan himself, since the proposed plan could see him stay in power until 2029.

Pro-government supporters gathered at the 12,500 capacity sports complex, known as Abdi Ipekci Arena, outside Istanbul's ancient city walls, with the campaign theme: "Yes! If women are there, democracy is there."

Erdogan himself, together with his wife Emine, attended the event organised by the pro-government Women and Democracy Association (KADEM), whose deputy chair is Erdogan's younger daughter Sumeyye Erdogan Bayraktar. 

One attendee, Zehra Ferahtay, said the approval of constitutional changes would unify Turkey especially after the failed coup attempt last July to oust Erdogan's government. 

"Yes, I support the presidential system and especially after 15 July, we must be more united and together for this country," she said.

Critics, however, argue if the constitutional plan is approved, Turkey would lurch toward authoritarianism, saying it would not be a system based on checks and balances.

In Bakirkoy, another Istanbul district, women took to streets for the "No" campaign in opposition to the constitutional changes.

Around 5,000 women unfurled banners with such messages as, "For our life and our rights, our decision is No."

"A 'Yes' vote would prove disastrous for the entire country and for women," 23-year-old Buse Sogutlu told AFP.

"Still, we will continue to take to the streets and resist," she said. 

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