Erdogan targets Merkel in German-Turkish row
ANKARA - Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Sunday accused German Chancellor Angela Merkel of employing "Nazi" measures as new rows erupted between Ankara and Berlin over a pro-Kurdish rally and the July 15 coup attempt.
Turkey and the European Union are locked in an explosive crisis that has raised questions over the future viability of Ankara's bid to join the bloc, as tensions rise ahead of an April 16 referendum on expanding Erdogan's powers.
The crisis began after Germany and other EU states refused to allow some Turkish ministers to campaign for a 'yes' vote on their soil, provoking a volcanic response from the Turkish strongman who said the spirit of Nazi Germany was rampant in Europe.
"When we call them Nazis they (Europe) get uncomfortable. They rally together in solidarity. Especially Merkel," Erdogan said in a televised speech.
"But you are right now employing Nazi measures," Erdogan said referring to Merkel, pointedly using the informal "you" in Turkish.
"Against who? My Turkish brother citizens in Germany and brother ministers" who went to the country to hold campaign rallies for a 'yes' vote in next month's referendum, he said.
- 'Germany behind coup?' -
Germany, home to 1.4 million Turkish voters, hosts by far the largest Turkish diaspora community in the world but the partnership between Ankara and Berlin has been ripped to shreds by the current crisis.
In yet another row, Turkey reacted furiously to a Frankfurt rally on Saturday urging a 'no' vote where protesters brandished insignia of outlawed Kurdish militants.
"Yesterday (Saturday), Germany put its name under another scandal," presidential spokesman Ibrahim Kalin told CNN-Turk. He said the German ambassador had been summoned although this was not confirmed by Berlin.
The Turkish foreign ministry accused the German authorities "of the worst example of double standards" for allowing the protest while preventing Turkish ministers from campaigning there for a 'yes' vote.
Many protesters carried symbols of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), listed as a terror organisation not just by Turkey but also the European Union and the United States.
Meanwhile, Turkey reacted with indignation after Germany's intelligence chief said he was unconvinced by Turkish assertions US-based Islamic preacher Fethullah Gulen was behind the failed coup of July 15.
Presidential spokesman Ibrahim Kalin said Europe was seeking to "whitewash" Gulen's group, while Defence Minister Fikri Isik said the comments raised questions about whether Berlin itself was involved in the putsch.
"The fact that the head of German intelligence made such a statement will increase doubts about Germany and give rise to the question 'was German intelligence behind the coup?'" he said.
In an interview with Der Spiegel published on Saturday, Germany's foreign intelligence chief Bruno Kahl said Ankara had repeatedly tried to convince Berlin that Gulen was behind the coup "but they have not succeeded".
- 'Further than ever' -
The dispute has left Turkey's ambition to join the European Union -- a cornerstone of its policy for half a century -- hanging in the balance ahead of the referendum.
Erdogan threw further oil on the fire on Saturday by saying he believed parliament would after the poll agree a bill to restore capital punishment, which he would then sign.
It was Erdogan's clearest warning yet that he could reverse the 2004 abolition of capital punishment, a precondition for joining the EU.
European Commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker warned Sunday that any return of the death penalty in Turkey would be a "red line".
German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel told Der Spiegel: "We are farther away than ever from Turkey's accession to the EU."
The crisis is affecting Turkey's relations with key EU members and Turkish-Dutch ties hit an all-time low ahead of the March 15 elections in the Netherlands.
Erdogan last week even called on Turks living in Europe to have more children to tilt the demographic balance on the continent.
Danish Foreign Minister Anders Samuelsen on Sunday said he was summoning the Turkish ambassador for an explanation after a report dual nationals critical of Erdogan had been threatened.
The Berlingske daily quoted dual nationals or those of Turkish origin who said they were warned they would be denounced for "high treason" or have their family harassed back in Turkey over anti-Erdogan remarks on social media.