Mevlut Cavusoglu, Turkey's foreign minister, has criticised Austria, calling it the "capital of radical racism", following suggestions by Austrian Chancellor Christian Kern that the European Union end membership talks with Turkey.
European leaders have voiced concern over Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's ongoing crackdown following a failed coup attempt last month, warning that reintroduction of the death penalty for coup plotters would be a red line barring Turkey's accession to the EU.
Chancellor Kern intensified the debate on Wednesday, saying that he would start a discussion among European heads of government to end talks with Turkey because of the country's democratic and economic deficits.
"We know that the democratic standards are clearly not sufficient to justify (Turkey's) accession," Kern said in an interview with Austrian broadcaster ORF.
Cavusoglu hit back on Friday in an interview with broadcaster TGRT Haber, saying the "Austrian chancellor needs to take a look at his own country first".
"Today Austria is the capital of radical racism," Cavusoglu said, adding that the chancellor's comments were "ugly".
"It is ironic that a country in the middle of a racist stream like this is calling our citizens radicals," he said.
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Cavusoglu focused his attack on the success of far-right political parties in Austria.
"A radical, racist candidate lost the latest election by a hair's breadth," he said.
"Now that election is cancelled, there is a good chance that this candidate is going to get elected."
Austria's Foreign Minister Sebastian Kurz joined in the verbal sparring, saying Ankara should "moderate its words and actions".
"I sharply reject the criticism of Austria by Turkey's foreign minister," a spokesman for the minister said, quoting Kurz.
"Ankara is called upon to moderate its choice of words and its course of action (at home) as well as to do its homework."
Dialogue with Turkey
Later on Friday, Germany's Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier resisted Austria’s call to halt talks with Turkey. He said the EU needed to think more broadly about how to frame its relationship with Ankara in these challenging times.
"I will work to ensure that the dialogue with Turkey does not occur solely via megaphones and microphones and cameras," Steinmeier said.
"There is no alternative, even if it is difficult in these times," Steinmeier said, following a meeting with other German-speaking foreign ministers – including Austria - in Liechtenstein.
Steinmeier said he hoped to restore direct talks between Berlin and Ankara on EU accession.
"For me a different question is of decisive importance, namely the question of how to manage the relationship with Turkey in this difficult situation and what we can do for those who have been arrested (following the coup attempt)," he said.
Source: Al Jazeera and agencies