Turkey referendum: Erdogan rallies not welcome in Austria

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President Erdogan campaigning in Turkey before April's referendum, 17 February 2017Image source, AFP
Image caption,
Austria fears Mr Erdogan's presence could increase friction

Austria has said the Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan cannot campaign in Austria ahead of April's referendum in Turkey on giving him greater powers.

Austrian Foreign Minister Sebastian Kurz said he was not welcome to hold rallies as this could increase friction and hinder integration.

At least 300,000 Austrian residents are estimated to be of Turkish origin.

Mr Erdogan is said to be planning to campaign in several European Union countries before the vote on 16 April.

Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim held a campaign rally in Germany, which also has a substantial Turkish minority, on 18 February.

In a foreign ministry statement, Mr Kurz said "we clearly reject bringing the Turkish campaign and polarisation to Austria".

Austrian officials fear that Mr Erdogan's presence could deepen divisions in Austria between his backers and Turks of Kurdish origin.

Mr Kurz stressed that the Turkish leader was still welcome to visit for bilateral talks with senior officials.

Image source, Reuters
Image caption,
Sebastian Kurz says Mr Erdogan is still welcome for bilateral talks

In response, Turkish Deputy Prime Minister Numan Kurtulmus said statements about a visit by Mr Erdogan before the vote were not welcome and the referendum should not concern Austria.

Turks will decide in the vote on whether the country should adopt an executive presidency. Mr Erdogan says, if approved, the change would increase political stability, but opponents fear authoritarianism.

The diplomatic spat comes amid strained relations between Turkey and Austria.

Austria has favoured freezing Turkish negotiations on eventual European Union membership and is among several countries to have expressed disquiet at a government crackdown, including mass arrests, since last July's coup attempt.