Dutch PM seeks to de-escalate tensions – Ankara pledges harsh retaliations

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Protesters wave flags outside the Dutch consulate in central Istanbul’s Istiklal Avenue, the main shopping road of Istanbul, early Sunday, March 12.

ANKARA/ROTTERDAM, March 12, (Agencies): Turkey told the Netherlands on Sunday that it would retaliate in the “harshest ways” after Turkish ministers were barred from speaking in Rotterdam, as a row over Ankara’s political campaigning among Turkish immigrants escalated. President Tayyip Erdogan labeled the Netherlands a “Nazi remnant” after it became the latest European country worried about political tensions inside Turkey spilling beyond its borders to prevent Turkish politicians from holding rallies.

The Dutch government on Saturday first barred Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu from flying to Rotterdam and later stopped Family Minister Fatma Betul Sayan Kaya from entering the Turkish consulate in the port city, before escorting her out of the country to Germany. Dutch police used dogs and water canon early on Sunday to disperse hundreds of protesters outside the consulate in Rotterdam who were waving Turkish flags and throwing bottles and stones. Several demonstrators were beaten by police with batons, a Reuters witness said.

Officers carried out charges on horseback. The Dutch government, which stands to lose heavily to the anti-Islam party of Geert Wilders in elections next week, said the ministers’ visits were undesirable and that it would not cooperate in the political campaigning of Turkish ministers in the Netherlands. In a statement issued early on Sunday, Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim said Turkey would retaliate in the “harshest ways” and “respond in kind to this unacceptable behaviour”. Protesters also gathered outside the Dutch embassy in Ankara and consulate in Istanbul, throwing eggs and stones at the buildings. Turkish authorities had earlier sealed off the premises in apparent retaliation. Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte said he would do everything to “deescalate” the diplomatic confrontation, which he described as the worst the Netherlands had experienced in years.

For a short period, the Turkish flag flew outside the Dutch consulate in Istanbul. Sources inside the Turkish presidency said the flags had been changed by Dutch consulate officials and that there had been no outside interference. Ahead of his planned trip, Cavusoglu had threatened tough economic and political sanctions against the Netherlands if it refused him entry.

Supporting Rutte’s decision to ban the visits, the Dutch government said there was a risk of Turkish political divisions flowing over into its own Turkish minority, which has both pro- and anti-Erdogan camps. It cited public order and security worries in withdrawing landing rights for Cavusoglu’s flight. Turkey fired back saying the Dutch ambassador to Ankara should not return from leave “for some time”.

Erdogan is looking to the large number of Turks living in Europe, especially in Germany and the Netherlands, to help secure victory next month in a referendum that would give the presidency sweeping new powers. 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

The diplomatic row comes in the run-up to the coming week’s Dutch election in which the mainstream parties are under strong pressure from the far-right party of Geert Wilders. After Kaya, the Turkish family minister, was escorted out of the country, Wilders told her on Twitter “go away and never come back”. Erdogan’s spokesman responded by saying the Netherlands had bowed to anti-Islam sentiment.

“Shame on the Dutch government for succumbing to anti-Islam racists and fascists, and damaging long-standing Turkey- NL relations,” presidential spokesman Ibrahim Kalin wrote on Twitter. Erdogan had earlier reacted to The Netherlands’ actions by saying: “You can cancel our foreign minister’s flight as much as you want, but let’s see how your flights will come to Turkey now.” “They don’t know diplomacy or politics. They are Nazi remnants. They are fascists.”

In a sign the row could spread further, the owner of a venue in Sweden where a senior official from Turkey’s ruling party had been due to hold a rally on Sunday cancelled the rental contract, Turkey’s private Dogan news agency reported. The news agency said the owner had not given a reason for their decision. Cavusoglu also decided against traveling to Zurich, Switzerland, for an event on Sunday after failing to find a suitable venue. Zurich’s security authorities had unsuccessfully lobbied the federal government in Bern to ban Cavusoglu’s appearance. Rutte said it was important for his government not to bow to Turkish pressure, especially, he said, after Ankara threatened sanctions if the Dutch kept its ministers out. “Turkey is a proud nation; the Netherlands is a proud nation. We can never do business under those sorts of threats and blackmail,” said Rutte.

Still, added the prime minister, his government “will keep working to deescalate where we can. If the Turks choose to escalate, we will have to react, but we will do everything we can to de-escalate.” After a tense standoff outside the Turkish consulate in Rotterdam on Saturday night, Turkey’s family and social policies minister, Fatma Betul Sayan Kaya, was escorted back to the German border. Police in Rotterdam said they arrested 12 people as a demonstration outside the Turkish consulate in the city devolved into rioting. Police spokeswoman Patricia Wessels said the arrests, made for alleged violence and public order offenses, came as protesters pelted police with bottles and rocks early Sunday. Police responded with baton charges and a water cannon. Wessels says seven people were injured in the brief explosion of violence, including one police officer who suffered a broken hand.


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