- Austria has called on the European Union (EU) countries to enforce an outright ban on campaign appearances held by Turkish politicians in support of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan before an April referendum on giving him greater powers in his home country.
Austrian Chancellor Christian Kern made the plea on Sunday after Turkey criticized restrictions imposed by Germany and the Netherlands on such gatherings. Turkey has also said it would defy opposition from authorities in both countries and continue campaigning on foreign soil to urge Turkish nationals there to back the April 16 referendum.
Kern said the measure adopted by Ankara to boost Erdogan’s powers would violate the values of the EU, weaken the rule of law, and limit the separation of powers in Turkey.
The Austrian chancellor’s comments are likely to provoke Turkish accusations of “terror sponsorship” — a claim that Ankara has previously typically leveled against European countries critical of its policies, including most recently Germany.
This photo, taken on February 18, 2017 in Oberhausen, western Germany, shows participants waving Turkish flags during an event with the Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim to promote support for an April 16, 2017 constitutional referendum. (By AFP)
On February 10, Erdogan approved a bill that will change the country’s political system into a presidential one if approved in the referendum.
The proposed constitutional changes have been met with widespread protests across the country, with critics claiming that the ruling party is using last year’s failed coup to expand Erdogan’s authority and crackdown on opposition.
The Austrian chancellor also called on the 28-member bloc to halt negotiations with Turkey about membership in the union and revoke or restrict a multi-billion-euro financial aid planned for Turkey through the year 2020.
“We should reorient relations with Turkey without the illusion of EU membership,” Kern said, arguing that, “Turkey has moved further and further away from Europe in the past few years. Human rights and democratic values are being trampled. Press freedom is a foreign word.”
Kern also denounced the apprehension of German-Turkish journalist Deniz Yucel in Istanbul in mid-February over a report about a hacker attack on the Turkish energy minister’s email account.
This file photo, taken on July 21, 2016, shows Deniz Yucel, the Turkey correspondent of German newspaper Die Welt, during a TV show in Berlin. (By AFP)
The chancellor called for the immediate release of Yucel as well as the many other journalists, academics, and civil servants who have been detained in Turkey following the botched putsch in July 2016.
More than 250 were killed during the coup, when a group of army soldiers and police officers attempted to oust Erdogan. After suppressing the coup, Erdogan ordered a massive crackdown, which has seen more than 40,000 people jailed and some 110,000 others discharged from their jobs.
Austria has previously censured the alleged rights violations that have occurred during the crackdown. Austrian Foreign Minister Sebastian Kurz has on several occasions called for an end to the EU’s accession talks with Turkey over the issue.