Turkey suspends high-level diplomatic relations with Netherlands

Turkey said on Monday it would suspend high-level diplomatic relations with the Netherlands after Dutch authorities prevented Turkish ministers from speaking at rallies of expatriate Turks, deepening the row between the two NATO allies.

'Disproportionate' use of force used against Turkish demonstrators in Rotterdam, Turkey says

Demonstrators scuffled with Dutch riot police during a protest outside the Turkish Consulate in Rotterdam, Netherlands, on Sunday. (Yves Herman/Reuters)

Turkey said on Monday it would suspend high-level diplomatic relations with the Netherlands after Dutch authorities prevented Turkish ministers from speaking at rallies of expatriate Turks, deepening the row between the two NATO allies.

Deputy Prime Minister Numan Kurtulmus, the government's chief spokesperson, also said Ankara might re-evaluate its deal with the European Union to halt the flow of migrants from Turkish shores to Europe.

"We are doing exactly what they did to us. We are not allowing planes carrying Dutch diplomats or envoys from landing in Turkey or using our airspace," Kurtulmus told a news conference. "Those creating this crisis are responsible for fixing it."

President Tayyip Erdogan, who is seeking Turks' support in an April referendum for his plans to amass greater powers, has previously accused the Dutch government of acting like "Nazi remnants" for barring his ministers from addressing expatriate Turks to drum up votes. 

The row marks another low point in relations between Turkey and Europe, further dimming Ankara's prospects of joining the bloc. It also comes as Turkey is caught up by security concerns over militant attacks and the war in neighbouring Syria.

Earlier Monday, a source close to the government told Reuters that sanctions were expected to be discussed when the cabinet of ministers meets at 7 p.m. local time. Ankara's minister for EU Affairs, Omer Celik, said sanctions were likely.

Fatma Betul Sayan Kaya, Turkey's Minister of Family Affairs, who was escorted back to the German border after a long standoff outside the Turkish Consulate in Rotterdam. (Associated Press)

"We will surely have sanctions against the latest actions by the Netherlands. We will answer them with these," Celik said.

Apart from any economic measures, a source in Ankara said sanctions could affect cultural activities, and military and technological cooperation.

Dutch police used dogs, water cannons to break up protest 

Turkey summoned the Dutch chargé d'affaires on Monday to complain about the ban — imposed due to fears of unrest and distaste at what the Netherlands sees as an increasingly authoritarian tone from Erdogan — and the actions of Rotterdam police against Turkish protesters over the weekend, foreign ministry sources said.

Riot police used horses to remove demonstrators during the protest. Turkey says police used a disproportionate amount of force to break up the protest. (Yves Herman/Reuters)

On Sunday, Dutch police used dogs and water cannons to disperse hundreds of protesters waving Turkish flags outside the consulate in Rotterdam.

Some protesters threw bottles and stones and several demonstrators were beaten by police with batons, a Reuters witness said. Mounted police officers charged the crowd.

Turkish ministers banned

The Dutch government barred Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu from flying to Rotterdam on Saturday and later stopped Family Minister Fatma Betul Sayan Kaya from entering the Turkish Consulate there, before escorting her back to Germany.

Protests then erupted in Turkey and the Netherlands.

Several European countries, including Holland, have stopped Turkish politicians from holding rallies due to fears that tensions in Turkey might spill over into their expatriate communities.

Some 400,000 Turkish citizens live in the Netherlands and an estimated 1.5 million Turkish citizens live in Germany.

Netherlands the biggest source of foreign investment in Turkey

Dutch direct investment in Turkey amounts to $22 billion US, making the Netherlands the biggest source of foreign investment, with a share of 16 per cent. Ozgur Altug, chief economist at BGC Partners in Istanbul, said at this stage he did not foresee the row having serious short-term economic consequences.

"However, if the tension escalates and if countries start imposing sanctions against each other, it might have serious implications for the Turkish economy," he said.

Turkish exports to the Netherlands totalled $3.6 billion US in 2016, making it the 10th largest market for Turkish goods, according to the Turkish Statistical Institute. Turkey imported $3 billion US worth of Dutch goods in 2016.

Dutch visitors are important to Turkey's tourism industry, which was hit hard in 2016 by security fears due to attacks by ISIS and Kurdish militants. Some 900,000 Dutch people visited Turkey last year, down from 1.2 million a year earlier.

A source close to the government told Reuters that sanctions, if imposed, may go beyond the economy.

'Nazi remnants'

"When the sanctions are imposed, what we need to be careful about is being realistic. We are not completely closing the windows," the source said. "However, we want to show that what has been done to Turkey will have a response."

He said certain cultural activities may be cancelled and the re-evaluation of military and technological cooperation was also on the table.

Ankara is seeking an official written apology for the treatment of its family minister and diplomats in Rotterdam, the Turkish foreign ministry sources also said.

Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte has said it is Erdogan who should apologize for comparing the Netherlands to fascists and Nazis, adding that Turkey was acting "in a totally unacceptable, irresponsible manner."

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg called on Turkey and the Netherlands to defuse the row.

This weekend, Erdogan dubbed the Netherlands "Nazi remnants" and said "Nazism is still widespread in the West," comments echoed in Turkish media on Monday.

"Nazi Dogs," said a front-page headline incorporating a swastika in the pro-government Aksam newspaper, above a photo of a police dog biting the thigh of a man during Saturday night's protest in Rotterdam.