Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has accused the Dutch government of being “Nazi remnants” after the Netherlands barred the Turkish foreign minister from flying to the country, as a diplomatic dispute between the two countries escalated.
The row first erupted after Dutch officials on Friday said they would not welcome a visit by Turkey’s Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu if he was to address a political rally in Rotterdam on Saturday.
There are some 300,000 people of Turkish origin in the Netherlands, and the rally was aimed at generating support among expats for an April 16 referendum over whether to give Turkey’s president greater powers.
Cavusoglu said he planned to fly to Rotterdam anyway, and warned that if the Netherlands blocked his arrival, Turkey would respond with harsh economic and political sanctions.
But in a statement on Saturday the Dutch government said it had withdrawn landing permission for Cavusoglu’s plane because of “risks to public order and security”.
In response, Turkey summoned the Dutch envoy to Ankara to protest against the ban, while Erdogan promised retaliation against Dutch diplomatic flights.
“You can stop our foreign minister’s plane all you want, let’s see how your planes will come to Turkey from now on,” Erdogan said at a rally in Istanbul on Saturday.
“They are Nazi remnants, they are fascists,” Erdogan said, days after he angrily compared moves to block rallies in Germany to “Nazi practices”.
Cavusoglu said the German and Dutch bans on campaigns for a “yes” vote in the upcoming referendum on constitutional changes mean that Europe is “taking a side for a ‘no’ vote”.
Before the talks were completed, Turkish authorities publicly threatened sanctions. That makes the search for a reasonable solution impossible.
In the Netherlands it is illegal to hold a public rally about another country’s politics.
“The Dutch authorities appear not to want to allow any Turkish government minister to address any rally in this country,” Al Jazeera’s Dominic Kane, reporting from Rotterdam, said.
“That’s in their law, and all the parties appear to be supporting the position of the government.”
The Dutch government said it had been searching with Turkish authorities for an “acceptable solution” to Cavusoglu’s plan to campaign in the Netherlands.
“Before these talks were completed, Turkish authorities publicly threatened sanctions. That makes the search for a reasonable solution impossible,” Prime Minister Mark Rutte said in a statement.
Rutte called Erdogan’s remark comparing the Dutch to the Nazis “crazy”.
“I understand they’re angry, but this of course was way out of line,” he said.
The diplomatic dispute between the two NATO allies comes just days before the Netherlands goes to the polls in a March 15 election for the lower house of parliament.
The campaign has been dominated by issues of identity, with anti-Islam politician Geert Wilders set to make strong gains.
Wilders, speaking to Al Jazeera at a rally at the Dutch city of Heerlen on Saturday, said the moves by Erdogan and his ministers to campaign in foreign countries were “totally unacceptable”.
“It is uncommon and unwanted that his minister would go and campaign in Holland for a referendum to change the constitution there to make him [Erdogan] more of a dictator. He should not be allowed here at all,” said Wilders.
“And after him calling Dutch people Nazis and things like that, the Turkish ambassador should be extradited from the Netherlands immediately and retract our ambassador from Ankara today.”
The Dutch government said it does not object to meetings in the Netherlands to give information about the Turkish referendum, “but these meetings should not add to tensions in our society and everybody who wants to organise a meeting must adhere to instructions from authorities so that public order and security can be guaranteed”.
It said the Turkish government “does not want to respect the rules in this matter”.
With the ban on campaign rallies, Rotterdam joined a growing list of European cities that block such gatherings for fear of unrest.
Erdogan also denounced Germany after Turkish leaders were prevented from rallying expats in several German cities in support of the referendum.
Many in Europe worry that Erdogan is capitalising on fears following a failed coup attempt in July to push through a more authoritarian system with few checks on his power.
Journalist and author Andrew Finkel, who has covered Turkey extensively, told Al Jazeera the spats with Europe play well to the electorate back home.
“As far is the Turkish government is concerned, they couldn’t be happier than they are today. It’s clearly an attempt to escalate the conflict,” said Finkel.
The verbal sparring could have longer-term repercussions, however.
“It’s a case of clear short-termism. They’re trying to play this national card – much in the way that Geert Wilders is playing the nationalist card. But of course what happens the day after that … Nobody is really thinking about that, because Europe is very important to Turkey.”