Dutch riot police on horseback clashed early Sunday with hundreds of Turkish government supporters in Rotterdam who were protesting after the Netherlands refused to allow a Turkish minister into the country and expelled another one.
Before clashes broke out, about 2,000 protesters had gathered outside the Turkish consulate in Rotterdam, the country’s second largest city, to show their support for the Ankara government of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who is trying to push through a referendum next month to expand his powers.
Shortly after midnight, police began forcing demonstrators away from the area near the consulate. Riot police, on foot and on horseback, used force to push back the crowd, the French news agency reported.
Erdogan’s angry reaction
Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu was barred from landing in the Netherlands Saturday because of growing opposition to Turkey’s referendum campaigning throughout the European Union. Erdogan condemned the action and denounced the Netherlands, which is Turkey’s partner in the NATO alliance, as a “Nazi remnant.”
After his rebuff by the Dutch, Cavusoglu said Turkey would “take all necessary measures” against the Netherlands. Earlier, he had threatened harsh economic and political sanctions.
After Cavusoglu was turned away and Erdogan’s angry reaction, Turkey’s state-run Anadolu news agency said that another member of the government, Family Minister Fatma Betul Sayan Kaya had entered the Netherlands from Germany, even though the events at which she intended to speak had been canceled.
Turkish minister unable to enter consulate
The dispute escalated late Saturday when police barred Kaya from entering the Turkish consulate in Rotterdam in the midst of hundreds of protesters waving Turkish flags and demanding to see her.
“We have been stopped 30 meters from our Rotterdam consulate and we are not allowed to enter,” Kaya wrote on Twitter.
Dutch officials escorted the minister back to the German border. The French news agency quotes Rotterdam Mayor Ahmed Aboutaleb saying Kaya “has been expelled back to the country she came from.”
After being denied entry to the Netherlands, Turkey’s Foreign Minister Cavusoglu headed to France, where he is scheduled to speak Sunday to Turkish emigres in the northeastern city of Metz. French officials said Saturday they had no plans to prevent his appearance.
Many European Union member states object to visits by Turkish ministers calling for Turkish nationals to vote for the upcoming referendum to change Turkey’s constitution, because of domestic tensions the campaigning has caused. Ankara wants to drum up support among millions of Turks who live and work in Europe to give Erdogan more power, which could see him remain in office until 2029.
Dutch right-winger speaks out
Dutch far-right leader Geert Wilders waded into the debate this week ahead of a planned rally in The Hague, the Dutch capital.
“We are in Holland here, not in Turkey, and a Turkish minister has no room here to lobby for somebody like Erdogan, who is a mere dictator,” Wilders said.
On Saturday, Wilders said in a tweet: “To all Turks in the Netherlands who agree with Erdogan: Go to Turkey and NEVER come back!!”
Ankara contends there is growing fascism in Europe, and that Europe leaders are trying to influence the outcome of its April 16 referendum.
Analyst Kamran Matin of the University of Sussex in England says Turkey has sought to exploit the rift.
“It was really stemming from the German authorities’ concern for the German-Kurdish relation within Germany, because a large number of Turkish citizens living there are of Kurdish origin,” Matin said. “But I think the Turkish government and Recep Tayyip Erdogan especially, they very quickly seized on this and rechanneled it toward their campaign for changing the structure of the state.”
Analyst: ‘Europe needs Turkey’
Europe has made clear its concerns over the path of the Turkish government, which has detained more than 40,000 people since a failed coup attempt last July against Erdogan. A German journalist based in Turkey was among those arrested last month.
As for the Turkish referendum, the EU fears giving Erdogan even more sweeping powers would further undermine democracy. Matin, however, says Europe — and especially Germany — needs to keep Turkey on their side.
“The refugee deal [the Turks] have with the EU, and especially with respect to Germany, is crucial leverage,” he said. If the refugee agreement with Turkey is upset and a vast tide of immigrants once again begins heading into Western Europe, he adds, such developments “would have an immediate impact in German domestic politics.”
The British-based analyst said, “Turkey is such a geopolitically important state and actor, for not only European countries, but the entire Western bloc, especially facing the resurgence of Russia.”
Berlin has voiced hope that diplomatic relations with Turkey will improve after the referendum.
Henry Ridgwell in London contributed to this report.