Istanbul, Mar 13: The European Union on Monday warned President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to avoid inflammatory rhetoric as a diplomatic crisis between Turkey and the Netherlands deepened over the blocking of Turkish ministers from holding rallies to win support for plans to expand his powers.
Erdogan at the weekend twice accused NATO ally Netherlands of acting like the Nazis, comments that sparked outrage in a country bombed and occupied by German forces in World War II.
Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte, who faces a major challenge from the far-right in a key general election Wednesday, said Erdogan's comments were unacceptable and it was Ankara that should apologise. In an escalating standoff that risks damaging Turkey's already deteriorating relations with the European Union ahead of the April 16 referendum on constitutional change, Brussels sternly warned Ankara to avoid making the situation worse.
In apparent reference to Erdogan's comments, EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini and EU Enlargement Commissioner Johannes Hahn called on Turkey to 'refrain from excessive statements and actions that risk further exacerbating the situation'.
"It is essential to avoid further escalation and find ways to calm down the situation," their statement added.
NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg also urged Turkey and its NATO allies to 'show mutual respect, to be calm and have a measured approach to contribute to de-escalate the tensions'. The Dutch authorities had at the weekend prevented the plane of Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu from landing and blocked Family Minister Fatma Betul Sayan Kaya from holding a rally in Rotterdam.
The ministers had been seeking to harness the support of an estimated 400,000 people of Turkish origin living in the country ahead of the April 16 referendum on constitutional changes giving Erdogan greater powers.
The Turkish foreign ministry on Monday summoned the Dutch envoy to Ankara for the third day in a row, handing two separate protest notes over The Hague's behaviour. The Netherlands also issued a new travel warning to Dutch citizens in Turkey, urging them to stay 'alert across the whole of Turkey'.
Turkey has already responded furiously to fellow NATO ally Germany's refusal to give permission for ministers to hold rallies there, with Erdogan comparing such action to "Nazi practices".
Denmark has also asked Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim to postpone a visit planned for later this month. The issue risks spiralling into a crisis with the EU as a whole, which Turkey has sought to join for more than half a century in a so far fruitless membership bid. Erdogan, who has indicated he may attempt to address rallies in EU states in a move that could inflame the situation further, said on Sunday that the West was showing its 'true face' in the standoff.