Dutch to blame for Srebrenica, says Turkey in escalation of row
THE Turkish president yesterday blamed the Dutch for the slaughter of 8,000 Bosnian Muslims in Srebrenica as he continued a four-day tirade against the Netherlands and Europe.
With less than 24 hours before Dutch voters head to the polls in an election seen as a test of populism in Europe, Recep Tayyip Erdogan continued to stoke the diplomatic row that erupted after the Netherlands blocked Turkish ministers from holding a rally in Rotterdam.
His government announced a series of diplomatic sanctions against the Netherlands, including barring the Dutch ambassador from returning to Ankara, and warned that it may soon follow with economic sanctions.
Mr Erdogan used a speech to healthcare workers to raise the 1995 mass killing at Srebrenica, when Dutch UN peacekeepers failed to stop Serb forces from murdering thousands of Muslim men and boys in the worst massacre in Europe since World War II.
"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," Mr Erdogan said.
Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte called the comments a "disgusting distortion of history". He added: "We will not lower ourselves to this level. It is totally unacceptable."
The Turkish president also aimed his anger at Germany, describing it as a "bandit state" that was harming Europe. Mr Erdogan earlier called German authorities "Nazis" after they too blocked Turkish ministers from holding rallies ahead of next month's referendum in Turkey, when voters will decide whether to give Mr Erdogan sweeping new powers.
Germany's 'Bild' newspaper reported that Turkey planned to try to hold 15 more rallies with the 1.4 million Turkish voters in Germany ahead of the April 16 referendum - a plan that could escalate tensions even further.
Turkish former ministers, current MPs and top officials of Turkey's ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) are to appear at the rallies, most of which will be held in Berlin, Stuttgart, Hamburg, Munich and in the state of North Rhine-Westphalia.
One German state governor called for a blanket ban on Turkish rallies in Germany, saying: "Turkish domestic conflicts have no place in Germany."
Austria has also stopped several Turkish rallies from going ahead and the Austrian interior ministry is seeking a change in the law to stop foreign politicians giving speeches if it would threaten public order.
Critics of Mr Erdogan said he was deliberately stoking the row to try to muster nationalist support ahead of the referendum. Turkey's deputy prime minister denied the charge and said the government was defending Turkish national honour.
Similar charges have been made against Mr Rutte, who is trying to head off a challenge from the far-right populist Geert Wilders in an election centred around identity.
Mr Rutte has seen his poll numbers climb since he blocked the Turkish ministers on Saturday.