‘No European will be safe’: Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan shows no sign of softening tone as rift between Ankara and EU deepens
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan warned on Wednesday that Europeans risk being unsafe on the world’s streets, as a crisis between Ankara and the EU showed no signs of abating.
“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 during a speech 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 claims, 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 behaviour was reminiscent of Nazi Germany and also raised alarm over what it sees as rising racism and Islamophobia.
Erdogan warned Europe that Turkey was “not a country to push, to prod, to play with its honour, 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 EU as well as Berlin and the Hague, precipitating a crisis that has raised doubts over the viability of Turkey’s EU bid.
Tensions with Germany have been further heightened after Deniz Yucel, the Turkey correspondent of the German newspaper Die Welt, was jailed last month on terror charges. He is awaiting trial.
The president accused German consular officials of allowing Yucel to take refuge in the residence of the German consul in Istanbul for a month to evade arrest.
Erdogan again condemned German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who he previously claimed is “supporting terrorists”, after she urged the Turkish-German journalist be freed and gave her support to the Dutch during the height of the crisis over rallies.
“You say ‘I am with the Netherlands’. Well, I am with my people,” Erdogan said.
In Berlin, Germany’s new President Frank-Walter Steinmeier again urged Turkey to free Yucel, speaking in his inauguration address to parliament. Steinmeier, the former foreign minister, warned Erdogan he was threatening the progress his country had achieved in recent years and decades.
“President Erdogan, do not endanger what you and others have created,” Steinmeier said, adding that “credible signals of rapprochement are welcome”.
“Stop these appalling comparisons with Nazism, do not cut the ties with those who want a partnership with Turkey,” he said. “Respect the rule of law and the freedom of the press and of journalists, and release Deniz Yucel!”
Press defenders claim Turkey is holding 149 journalists in jail and EU leaders have repeatedly expressed alarm over freedom of expression in the country. But Erdogan denied there was a single bona fide reporter in jail in the country.
“Everyone is there, from murderers to robbers, child abusers to fraudsters. In this list, only journalists are not present,” he said.
Referring to a list of detained Turkish journalists given to Turkish authorities, he said: “Our friends looked at this and 144 are in jail for terror charges, the other four for common crimes.”
On April 16, Turks will decide whether to approve constitutional changes that would abolish the post of prime minister and could see Erdogan stay in power until 2029.
The government argues it will ensure stability in Turkey but critics see it as regime change that will lead to one-man rule.