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Turkish president directs fresh verbal attack at the Netherlands

Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, left, speaks during an interview with A Haber television in Istanbul Picture via AP
By Suzan Fraser, in Ankara

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has directed fresh verbal attacks at the Netherlands amid their growing diplomatic spat, holding the country responsible for Europe's worst mass killing since the Second World War.

In a televised speech, Mr Erdogan referred to the massacre of some 8,000 Muslim men and boys in Srebrenica, eastern Bosnia, in 1995, and blamed a Dutch battalion of United Nations peacekeepers who failed to halt the slaughter by Bosnian Serb forces.

Mr Erdogan said: "We know the Netherlands and the Dutch from the Srebrenica massacre.

"We know how rotten their character is from their massacre of 8,000 Bosnians there."

It was Mr Erdogan's latest war of words on the Netherlands, which prevented two Turkish ministers from holding campaign rallies in the country over the weekend.

The two ministers had sought to campaign in an April 16 referendum on expanding Mr Erdogan's powers, courting the votes of Turks in the Netherlands that are eligible to vote in the plebiscite.

Around 400,000 people with ties to Turkey live in the Netherlands.

The Turkish leader previously called the Netherlands "Nazi remnants" and also accused it of "fascism".

Earlier, Turkey criticised the European Union for siding with the Netherlands in the row.

In a statement, the Turkish foreign ministry said the EU's stance on Turkey was "short-sighted" and "carried no value" for Turkey, as well as lending "credence" to extremists.

The ministry argued that the European bloc had "ignored the [Netherlands'] violation of diplomatic conventions and the law" after Dutch authorities escorted the Turkish family affairs minister out of the country and denied the foreign minister permission to land.

The diplomatic spat between the two countries escalated swiftly, with Mr Erdogan making several Nazi comparisons with EU member states Germany and the Netherlands.

The EU has called on Turkey to cease "excessive statements".

The spat has raised concerns that cooperation between the EU and Turkey on a number of issues, such as dealing with the flow of migrants from war-torn Syria, may start to fray.

On Monday, Turkey slapped a series of political sanctions against the Netherlands, including halting political discussions between the two countries and closing Turkish airspace to Dutch diplomats.

Other sanctions bar the Dutch ambassador entry back into Turkey and advise parliament to withdraw from a Dutch-Turkish friendship group.

Deputy prime minister Numan Kurtulmus said the sanctions would apply until the Netherlands takes steps "to redress" the actions that Ankara sees as a grave insult.

Mr Erdogan said there could be more sanctions but did not elaborate.

Turkey's state-run Anadolu Agency quoted Turkey customs and trade minister Bulent Tufenkci as saying economic sanctions "could come to the agenda in the period ahead".

German chancellor Angela Merkel also backed the Netherlands in its diplomatic fight with Turkey, pledging her full support and solidarity with the Dutch and saying the Nazi jibes were unacceptable.

Mr Erdogan responded angrily to Mrs Merkel's support for the Netherlands, exclaiming "Shame on you", during a television interview on Monday.

On Tuesday, Mr Erdogan described both Germany and the Netherlands as "bandit states" that were harming the European Union.

Mrs Merkel has refrained from reacting to Mr Erdogan.

"The chancellor has no intention of participating in the race of provocations," Mrs Merkel's spokesman, Steffen Seibert, said late on Monday.

"She won't play along. The accusations are recognisably absurd."

Also on Monday, the German foreign ministry amended its travel advice for Turkey, noting that "elevated political tensions and protests that could also be directed against Germany" should be expected during the referendum campaign.

It recommended that travellers stay away from political events and large gatherings of people.

Meanwhile, the mayor of Rotterdam said that specialised armed security forces he sent to a stand-off with Turkish family affairs minister Fatma Betul Sayan Kaya on Saturday night had permission to open fire if necessary.

Speaking late on Monday night on a television talk show, mayor Ahmed Aboutaleb said he sent the special armed intervention unit to the Turkish consulate amid fears that a 12-man security detail that had driven to the Netherlands from Germany with the minister could be armed.

Mr Aboutaleb said on the Nieuwsuur show that it was important to "be sure that if it came to a confrontation that we would be the boss" and that the unit had been given "permission to shoot".

The Turkish minister was eventually escorted out of the Netherlands in the early hours of Sunday.

Earlier, the Dutch had also refused Turkey's foreign minister permission to visit.

Both ministers wanted to address rallies about next month's constitutional reform referendum on giving Mr Erdogan more power.

Dutch prime minister Mark Rutte repeated on Tuesday – the last day of campaigning for Dutch elections that have been overshadowed by the diplomatic crisis – that authorities are working to de-escalate tensions with Ankara.

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