Europe

Turkey referendum: Dutch withdraw FM Cavusoglu's travel permission

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu in Berlin. Photo: 8 March 2017 Image copyright EPA
Image caption Mevlut Cavusoglu warned Turkey would retaliate if his visit to Rotterdam were blocked

The Dutch government has withdrawn landing permission for the plane with Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu on board.

Mr Cavusoglu earlier said he would visit Rotterdam on Saturday, despite a ban on him to address a rally there.

He warned Turkey would impose heavy sanctions if his visit were blocked.

Citing security concerns, Rotterdam's mayor had said Mr Cavusoglu could not campaign there to win support among expatriates for April's referendum.

Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte said in a statement that the Turkish threat of sanctions made "the search for a reasonable solution impossible".

Therefore the Netherlands announced it would withdraw landing rights, he said.

Similar meetings in Austria, Germany and Switzerland have also been banned.

The cancellations in Germany led Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to accuse Berlin of "Nazi practices".

That comment drew a sharp response from German leaders, with Chancellor Angela Merkel describing the comparison as "unacceptable".

Mr Erdogan is seeking to extend his powers in the 16 April vote.

He is targeting millions of expatriate voters eligible to cast a ballot in the referendum - including 1.4 million in Germany.

Rotterdam Mayor Ahmed Aboutaleb said earlier this week that the owner of the hall scheduled to hold Mr Cavusoglu's event in the city on Saturday had withdrawn authorisation, but the foreign minister could still visit.

"He has diplomatic immunity and everything so we will treat him with respect, but we have other instruments to prohibit things happening in public spaces," Mr Aboutaleb said, quoted by Reuters news agency.

Image copyright AP
Image caption Mr Cavusoglu's planned visit to the Netherlands has prompted demonstrations by anti-Islam groups

There was also uncertainty about whether an event he was due to attend in Zurich, Switzerland, on Sunday would go ahead after one venue refused to hold it.

Another event in Zurich scheduled for Friday and featuring a senior official was cancelled, as were rallies in the Austrian towns of Hoerbranz, Linz and Herzogenburg.

The Dutch and Austrian governments have also criticised the Turkish government's drive to take its referendum campaign to Turks based in EU countries.

Relations between Turkey and European countries have deteriorated since last July's attempted coup in Turkey. Germany has been critical of the mass arrests and purges that followed - with nearly 100,000 civil servants removed from their posts.

Many European nations have expressed deep disquiet about Turkey's response to the coup attempt and its perceived slide towards authoritarianism under President Erdogan.

Turkey is a key partner in an arrangement attempting to limit the movement of migrants into the EU, but has threatened to "open the gates" if the EU reneges on commitments to provide aid, visa-free travel for its nationals and accelerated membership talks.

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