ISTANBUL — The Dutch government on Saturday prevented Turkey’s foreign minister from visiting the Netherlands to address Turkish voters there, in a breach of diplomatic protocol that reflected sharply worsening tensions between Turkey and Europe.
The Dutch government said in a statement it had decided to withdraw landing rights for the foreign minister, Mevlut Cavusoglu, because of the “risks to public order and security” that a visit by him would pose. Earlier Saturday, Cavusoglu had warned that Turkey would impose “sanctions” on the Netherlands if his flight was canceled, according to local Turkish media.
Reacting later in the day to the cancellation, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan called the Dutch “Nazi remnants” and “fascists” and suggested that Dutch diplomats would be prevented from traveling to Turkey.
The intense diplomatic arguments highlighted the extraordinary heat generated by an upcoming referendum in Turkey on a number of constitutional amendments that could transform its system of government and vastly expand Erdogan’s powers. In the run-up to the referendum, set for April 16, several European nations, including the Netherlands and Germany, have canceled appearances by Turkish ministers supporting Erdogan as the ministers try to sway Turkish voters in the diaspora.
The Turkish campaign is coinciding with a fraught election season in Europe that has seen a surge in popularity for right-wing, anti-immigration candidates. Nationalist or anti-Muslim politicians such as Geert Wilders in the Netherlands have called for Turkish politicians to be barred from campaigning in their countries — adding to the pressure on European leaders to accommodate such sentiments.
Wilders, whose Freedom Party is expected to be a leading vote-getter in the Dutch election set for Wednesday, appeared to relish the spat Saturday between his government and Turkey’s. On Twitter, he demanded the expulsion of the Turkish ambassador and the recall of the Dutch ambassador in Ankara.
“Oh yes,” he added in another tweet. “I say it to all Turks in the Netherlands who agree with Erdogan: GO back to Turkey and NEVER come back.”
The breach in relations with the Netherlands comes as Turkey and Germany are engaged in a similarly bitter dispute that could threaten a European Union deal with Ankara to stem the flow of migrants — a critical issue in Germany, where more than 1 million asylum seekers have arrived over the past two years.
As the arguments grow more bad-tempered, Erdogan could stand to benefit from a perception that European countries have been trying to interfere in Turkey’s election. On Saturday, as news of the foreign minister’s canceled visit reached Turkey, a hashtag in Turkish caught fire: “NazipracticeinHolland.”
Amar Nadhir in Bucharest, Romania, contributed to this report.