Dutch back hardline attitude to Turkey
Right-wing nationalist Geert Wilders and the conservative Dutch prime minister were both climbing in the polls last night as voters appeared to embrace their hardline responses to the spiralling diplomatic row with Turkey.
With one day to go before the Netherlands heads to the polls tomorrow in an election seen as a test of populism in Europe, the crisis with Turkey dominated a televised debate between Dutch party leaders and dragged governments across Europe into the fray.
Turkey, meanwhile, threatened once again to start letting refugees and migrants into the EU and vowed to take the Netherlands to an international court as President Recep Tayyip Erdogan lashed out at German chancellor Angela Merkel and accused her of "supporting terrorism".
A Dutch poll published last night put the centre-right VVD party, led by prime minister Mark Rutte, on course to win the election with 27 seats, a three-seat improvement since the row with Turkey erupted on Saturday.
The same poll showed Mr Wilders's nationalist Party for Freedom in line to win 24 seats, up two seats since the weekend.
The two men faced off in a one-on-one debate last night, when Mr Rutte struck a hard line on the confrontation with Turkey but also accused Mr Wilders of "the wrong kind of populism".
"If the Turks escalate then so will we," he said, demanding that Turkey apologise for calling the Dutch "Nazi remnants".
He also took aim at Mr Wilders's promise to ban the Koran and shut the Netherlands' borders, saying both were "fake policies" that could not be achieved.
Mr Wilders, whose campaign has centred around a promise to "de-Islamise the Netherlands", said the country should be worried about the citizens of Turkish origin who protested in support of Turkey and against the Dutch government. "Of course I'm angry about Erdogan, but I'm more angry about the people in the Netherlands who won't integrate," he said.
Mr Rutte and other mainstream party leaders have all vowed not to allow Mr Wilders into a coalition government, but the Dutch prime minister warned there was still "a real risk" that the nationalist could win most seats.
The row with Turkey began over the weekend, when Mr Rutte and his cabinet blocked two Turkish ministers from attending a rally in Rotterdam with Turkish citizens living in Holland in support of a 'Yes' vote in a referendum to give vast new powers to Mr Erdogan.
While leaders from the EU and Nato appealed for calm in the diplomatic spat, Mr Erdogan repeated his accusation that European governments were behaving like "Nazis". "Nazism, we can call this neo-nazism. A new Nazism tendency," he said. Mr Erdogan said Germany was "supporting terrorists" because it had not acted on 4,500 dossiers that Turkey sent it regarding terror suspects.
"Mrs Merkel, why are you hiding terrorists in your country?" he said. He also said he planned to take the Netherlands to the European Court of Human Rights and threatened to impose economic sanctions.
Omer Celik, the Turkish EU affairs minister, said Ankara should reconsider the deal struck with the EU last year, which dramatically reduced the flow of people from the Middle East entering Europe from Turkey. Mr Celik said his country would not allow for the resumption of deadly crossings in the Aegean Sea, but should consider opening its land borders to Greece and Bulgaria.
"In terms of land transits in Turkey, I think this situation should (be re-evaluated)," he told the Anadolu news agency.
Turkey has threatened to tear up the agreement with the EU several times before without following through, arguing that Europe has failed to meet its commitment to allow Turkish citizens to travel in the Schengen area without visas.
Mrs Merkel earlier offered her "complete support and solidarity" to the Dutch government and said Mr Erdogan's repeated Nazi comparisons were "completely unacceptable".