Austria calls for EU-wide ban on Turkish referendum campaigning

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Austrian Chancellor Christian Kern

Austrian Chancellor Christian Kern on Sunday called for a European Union-wide ban on campaign appearances by Turkish politicians to avoid having individual member countries like Germany come under pressure from Ankara, Reuters has reported.

Turkey said on Saturday it would defy opposition from authorities in Germany and the Netherlands and continue holding rallies in both countries to urge Turks living there to back an April 16 referendum to boost President Tayyip Erdoğan’s powers.

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu criticized German and Dutch restrictions on such gatherings as undemocratic and said Turkey would press on with them in the run-up to the vote.

Kern, in an interview published in the Welt am Sonntag newspaper, said the measure would weaken the rule of law in Turkey, limit the separation of powers, and violate the values of the EU.

Kern’s remarks attracted criticism from EU Affairs Minister Ömer Çelik on Sunday, who called on the EU to take measures against the governments of some member states that he said produce “racist, Islamophobic and anti-Semitic” policies.

“The attitude of some governments in Europe threatens democracy. This, in turn, strengthens far right movements. We are making a call for the protection of fundamental values all around the world. These values cannot be sacrificed to [the aspirations of] the racists, Islamophobic and anti-Semitic policies,” wrote Çelik from his Twitter account.

In the interview, Kern also called for the EU to end discussions with Turkey about membership in the bloc and scrap or restrict 4.5 billion euros in aid planned for Turkey through 2020.

“We should reorient relations with Turkey without the illusion of EU membership,” Kern told the newspaper.

“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,” he said.

Kern also criticized Ankara’s arrest of German-Turkish journalist Deniz Yücel, a correspondent for the Die Welt newspaper, and many other journalists, academics and civil servants, and called for Yücel’s immediate release.

At the same time, he said, Turkey remained an important partner in issues of security, migration and economic cooperation and said Ankara had lived up to its obligations under a migrant deal struck with the EU.

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