Austria’s Chancellor Kern says Turkish ministers promote ‘abolishing democracy’

Austria will try to prevent visiting Turkish ministers from campaigning for a constitutional referendum on the grounds of public safety and because they promote “abolishing democracy,” Chancellor Christian Kern told Austrian television.

Defining the tension as “a conflict of political Islam with European values,” Kern said and added that “Freedom of assembly is a high value but on the other hand there’s political campaigning for a referendum that’s more or less about abolishing democracy in Turkey. This is a perversion of the freedom of assembly.”

“We couldn’t just sit and watch such an appearance, but would try to prevent it on the grounds of public security,” Kern told Austrian public broadcaster ORF in an interview Monday night“So shortly before the referendum in Turkey, there is a conscious strategy of escalation. I assume that the Turkish side could try to continue this game in Austria, too.”

Dutch authorities prevented Turkish ministers last week from addressing rallies over Turkey’s coming referendum on transferring sweeping powers to the Turkey’s autocratic President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. In his rebuke, Erdoğan said the Netherlands would “pay the price” and announced a reassessment of Turkey’s relationship with the European Union (EU).

Kern said Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte had tried to find an “amicable solution” with Turkey, but that “the will wasn’t there” on the Turkish side, which he said is deliberately provoking conflicts with European governments.

 “We’re not aiming for that, on the contrary, de-escalation would be the order of the day,” Kern said. “But at the moment there is no partner with whom we could pursue de-escalation.”

While freedom of assembly was an important value for which members of his Social Democratic Party had themselves “fought with blood” decades ago, it was a “perversion” if Turkey was citing this freedom now, Kern said.

“This is a conflict of political Islam with European values,” Kern said. “Freedom of assembly is a high value but on the other hand there’s political campaigning for a referendum that’s more or less about abolishing democracy in Turkey. This is a perversion of the freedom of assembly.”

Tensions between Turkey and the Netherlands, a dramatic escalation of Turkey’s row with EU states, broke out on Saturday when the Netherlands blocked two Turkish ministers from speaking at political rallies and the Turkey’s autocratic President Erdoğan twice referred to the Dutch government as “Nazis.”

Turkey’s relations with Germany, Austria and the Netherlands have been strained over these countries’ refusal to allow Turkish government officials to hold rallies there ahead of the public referendum in Turkey in April.

Turkey will hold a referendum on April 16 on a constitutional reform package that will introduce an executive presidency in the country if approved.

Germany, Austria and the Netherlands have canceled scheduled events to be participated in by Turkish ministers, usually out of security concerns.

A large number of Turkish citizens or people of Turkish origin live in these countries, and Turkish citizens living abroad have the right to vote in elections and referenda.

Turkey is a candidate to join the EU, although the membership negotiations have made little progress over the past decade. The country has become a vital partner in a deal with the EU to curb the passage of migrants and refugees from Turkey into Europe.

March 14, 2017

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