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EU warns Erdogan as Turkey-Netherlands crisis deepens

Foreign ministry warns citizens to be careful amid escalating row after Turkish Foreign Minister banned from Rotterdam rally
People shout slogans during a protest in front of the Dutch Consulate in Istanbul, Turkey on 12 March (Reuters)

The European Union on Monday warned President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to avoid inflammatory rhetoric as a diplomatic crisis between Turkey and the Netherlands deepened over the blocking of Turkish ministers from holding rallies to win support for plans to expand his powers.

Erdogan at the weekend twice accused NATO ally Netherlands of acting like the Nazis, comments that sparked outrage in a country bombed and occupied by German forces in World War II.

Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte, who faces a major challenge from the far-right in a key general election Wednesday, said Erdogan's comments were unacceptable and it was Ankara that should apologise.

In an escalating standoff that risks damaging Turkey's already deteriorating relations with the European Union ahead of the April 16 referendum on constitutional change, Brussels sternly warned Ankara to avoid making the situation worse.

In apparent reference to Erdogan's comments, EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini and EU Enlargement Commissioner Johannes Hahn called on Turkey to "refrain from excessive statements and actions that risk further exacerbating the situation.

"It is essential to avoid further escalation and find ways to calm down the situation," their statement added.

NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg also urged Turkey and its NATO allies to "show mutual respect, to be calm and have a measured approach to contribute to de-escalate the tensions".

The Netherlands on Monday issued a new travel warning to Dutch citizens in Turkey urging them to take care following a furious row between the countries and clashes between Dutch police and protesters waving Turkish flags in Rotterdam.

"Since 11 March, 2017 there have been diplomatic tensions between Turkey and the Netherlands. Stay alert across the whole of Turkey and avoid gatherings and crowded places," the foreign ministry said in its warning.

The Dutch government barred Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut 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.

In response, Turkey on Monday summoned the Dutch charge d'affaires for the third day in a row, foreign ministry sources said, as the diplomatic feud between the NATO allies deepened.

The sources said charge d'affaires Daan Feddo Huisinga was presented with two notes addressed to the Dutch government in which Ankara said it expected a written apology and accused The Hague of breaching the Vienna Convention on diplomacy.

Pro-Turkish government rallies have also been cancelled in Austria and Swizterland. 

In a speech in France over the weekend, Cavusoglu subsequently described the Netherlands as the "capital of fascism", while Erdogan described the country as a "banana republic" and "Nazi remnants".

Hundreds of protesters gathered outside the Dutch embassy in Ankara and consulate in Istanbul where one protester scaled the wall and swapped the Dutch flag for a Turkish one.

A Turkish flag briefly flew over the Dutch consulate in Istanbul on Sunday (Reuters)
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 the German Die Welt newspaper.

Yalim Eralp, a retired Turkish diplomat who has served as Turkey's ambassador to NATO, Washington and the UN, told Middle East Eye that domestic political concerns were trumping normal diplomatic protocol, with Dutch parliamentary elections taking place this week and Germany set to vote later in the year.

"These western European countries fear that Turkey is trying to bring its domestic problems into their countries," he said.

"And we need to view these developments in light of the rise of right-wing parties there with elections on the horizon for many of those countries."

However, the blame for this diplomatic crisis is not all one-sided, said Eralp.

"The Turkish government is also trying to portray itself as besieged by Europe and looking for the votes of Europe-based Turks for the upcoming referendum," he said, referring to the 16 April referendum that could give President Erdogan increased powers and longer tenure in office.

Eralp said that the long-term future of Turkish-EU relations now depended on how Turkish officials handled the dispute.

"The long-term future of Turkey-EU ties now lies firmly in the hands of Turkish officials after these recent developments," he said.

"It all depends on whether they will want to continue to have ties or not."

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