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German government condemns Erdogan’s Nazi remarks

German government condemns Erdogan's Nazi remarks

BERLIN — Germany’s government on Monday condemned remarks by Turkey’s president accusing officials of “Nazi practices,” days after a local authority prevented a Turkish minister from addressing a rally there.

Chancellor Angela Merkel’s chief of staff called Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s statements “absolutely unacceptable.”

“Germany cannot be outmatched regarding the rule of law, tolerance and liberalism,” he told German public Television ARD.

Merkel spokesman Steffen Seibert said the German government “strongly rejected” the equation of modern Germany with Nazi Germany, adding that such comparisons downplayed the crimes of the Nazis. Seibert noted that there were strong social, economic and military ties between Germany and Turkey, but acknowledged that there were “far-reaching differences of opinion” between Berlin and Ankara at the moment.

Diplomatic tensions have been rising in recent days amid Turkish plans to have government ministers address rallies in Germany and the Netherlands in support of the referendum that would give Erdogan new powers.

Altmaier said the government was in contact with Turkey’s government and announced that “we will make sure the significance of the problems of what happened in recent days will be recognized and understood in Ankara as well.”

Erdogan had said Sunday in Istanbul that “Germany, you don’t have anything to do with democracy. These current practices of yours are no different than the Nazi practices of the past.”

His remarks followed a decision last week by local authorities in southwest Germany to withdraw permission for Turkey’s justice minister to use a venue to hold a rally near the French border that was part of a campaign to get Turks in Germany to vote “yes” in an upcoming referendum on constitutional reform.

Seibert dismissed any notion that the federal government was involved in the decision to cancel events with Turkish officials.

“Ultimately it’s those people who are responsible in the respective location who can best judge whether an event can be approved under the aspects of security and the expected crowd numbers.”

EU officials have spoken out against totally cutting ties with Turkey wouldn’t be in the bloc’s interests. A European Union migrant deal with Turkey, which also is a NATO member, has significantly cut down the number of migrants crossing into Europe. However, Erdogan has several times threatened to quit the deal when expressing anger over European countries.

German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel sought to smooth stirred-up emotions on Monday and stressed the need to “normalize” what he calls a “highly strained” relationship with Turkey.

He also pointed out that EU countries have a common interest in not letting NATO partner Turkey “drift further to the east” and that German authorities back freedom of expression and that it’s normal for Turkish politicians to want to address their compatriots, 1.4 million of whom are eligible to vote in the referendum.

Other European nations with significant Turkish immigrant communities have expressed different opinions on the issue.

“Our Austrian solution should be clear: we will not accept any campaign appearances by Turkish politicians in Austria,” Austrian Foreign Minister Sebastian Kurz said as he arrived at a meeting of European Union counterparts in Brussels.

He added that “we don’t want campaigns from other states to be brought to Austria and conflicts from other countries imported … that is always damaging for integration.”

However, Gabriel sounded skeptical about calls from some other European Union ministers to consider EU-wide rules for campaign appearances by foreign politicians pointing out that every country had its own opinion on the topic.

“I think the main thing is that everyone uses the possibilities they have to ensure that we get back to a somewhat normal relationship,” he said.

Luxembourg Foreign Minister Jean Asselborn said that “normally you would have to think that democracy is strong enough to cope with this.”

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Geir Moulson in Brussels, and Frank Jordans in Berlin, contributed to this report.

Kirsten Grieshaber, The Associated Press