Austrian and Dutch politicians call for ban on Turkish rallies

Defiant Ankara says it will continue to campaign for Erdogan in April referendum

Austrian chancellor Christian Kern on Sunday called for a European Union-wide ban on campaign appearances by Turkish politicians to avoid having individual member countries like Germany come under pressure from Ankara.

Meanwhile, Dutch nationalist Geert Wilders, who is expected to make huge gains in a March 15th election, said on Sunday he would ban Turkish officials from political campaigning in the Netherlands.

Turkey said on Saturday it would defy opposition from authorities in Germany and the Netherlands and continue holding rallies in both countries to urge Turks living in them to back a referendum on April 16th to boost President Tayyip Erdogan's powers.

Turkish foreign minister Mevlut Cavusoglu criticised German and Dutch restrictions on such gatherings as undemocratic, and said Turkey would press on with them in the run-up to the vote.


Mr Kern, in an interview published in the Welt am Sonntag newspaper, said the measure would weaken the rule of law in Turkey, limit the separation of powers, and violate the values of the EU.

He also called for the EU to end discussions with Turkey about membership in the bloc and scrap or restrict €4.5 billion euros in aid planned for Turkey through 2020.

“We should reorient relations with Turkey without the illusion of EU membership,” Mr Kern told the newspaper.

"Turkey has moved further and further away from Europe in the past few years. Human rights and democratic values are being trampled. Press freedom is a foreign word," he said.

Mr Kern criticised Ankara's arrest of German-Turkish journalist Deniz Yucel, a correspondent for Die Welt newspaper, and many other journalists, academics and civil servants, and called for Yucel's immediate release.

At the same time, he said, Turkey remained an important partner in issues of security, migration and economic co-operation, and said Ankara had lived up to it.

Weak response

On Friday, the Dutch government said plans by Turkish authorities to hold a referendum campaign rally in Rotterdam, were "undesirable," but stopped short of trying to prevent them. Mr Wilders told journalists in Amsterdam the response by Dutch prime minister Mark Rutte was "very weak. I would do things differently".

"I would declare . . . the whole cabinet of Turkey persona non grata," Mr Wilders said. He called Turkish president Tayyip Erdogan an "Islamofascist," saying that he opposed his efforts to change the constitution in Turkey to strengthen his position.

The Turkish referendum in April would grant Erdogan sweeping new powers, including the ability to appoint ministers and top state officials and dissolve parliament, declare emergency rule and issue decrees.

Mr Wilders's Party for Freedom, campaigning to close the Dutch border to Muslim immigrants and shut mosques, is virtually tied with Rutte's conservative VVD party ahead of the general election on March 15th.– (Reuters)