Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said on Wednesday that Europeans the world over would not be able to walk safely on the streets if they kept up their current attitude as the German president cautioned him against damaging ties with partners.
“If you continue to behave like this, tomorrow in no part of the world, no European, no Westerner will be able to take steps on the street safely and peacefully,” Erdogan said at event for local journalists in Ankara.
Erdogan did not expand on what he meant by his comments but appeared to imply that Europeans risked receiving the same treatment that, he says, is endured by Turks and Muslims in Europe.
Relations between Turkey and Europe have been severely strained since Turkish ministers were thwarted from campaigning on the continent for a “yes” vote in next month’s referendum on expanding Erdogan’s powers.
Ankara has said such behavior was reminiscent of Nazi Germany and also raised alarm over what it sees as rising racism and Islamophobia on the continent.
Erdogan warned Europe that Turkey was “not a country to push, to prod, to play with its honor, to shove its ministers out of the door, drag its citizens on the floor.”
He said the world was watching Europe’s actions “very closely”, adding: “We as Turkey urge Europe to respect democracy, human rights, freedoms.”
His repeated comparisons with Nazi Germany have been strongly condemned by the European Union as well as Berlin and The Hague, precipitating a crisis that has raised doubts over the viability of Turkey’s EU bid.
Turkey has been embroiled in a row with Germany and the Netherlands over the barring of campaign appearances by Turkish officials seeking to drum up support for an April referendum on boosting Erdogan’s powers.
Later on Wednesday, Germany’s Frank-Walter Steinmeier used his first speech as president to issue a stark warning to Erdogan, saying he risked destroying everything his country had achieved in recent years and damaging ties with its partners.
“The way we look (at Turkey) is characterized by worry, that everything that has been built up over years and decades is collapsing,” Steinmeier said in his inaugural speech in the largely ceremonial role.
“President Erdogan, you are jeopardizing everything that you, with others, have built,” he said, adding that he would welcome “credible signs” to ease the situation.
NATO ally Turkey has repeatedly accused Germany of using Nazi tactics to ban ministerial appearances and has caused anger in Germany by holding German-Turkish journalist Deniz Yucel.
“But end the unspeakable Nazi comparisons!” Steinmeier said.
“Do not cut the ties to those people who want partnership with Turkey! Respect the rule of law and the freedom of media and journalists! And release Deniz Yucel.”
Yucel has been detained since January on charges of terrorist propaganda.
Turkey has expressed anger at perceived slights from Berlin, while Germany has said Ankara’s crackdown on the opposition and civil society goes too far.
Steinmeier urged Erdogan to send “credible signals to ease tensions” with Germany and other partners.