Dutch Prime Minister and leader of the People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy (Volkspartij voor Vrijheid en Democratie – VVD) Mark Rutte answers journalists on his way to cheer marathon runners while campaigning for re-election, in The Hague, on March 12, 2017. The Dutch parliamentary elections are set to take place on March 15, 2017 EMMANUEL DUNAND / AFP
Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte Sunday ruled out apologising for banning Turkish ministers from joining pro-Ankara rallies here, but said he hoped a diplomatic row could be defused.
“There’s absolutely no way excuses can be made, they should make excuses for what they’ve done yesterday,” Rutte told reporters as he campaigned for Wednesday’s general election.
The Dutch have been particularly angered after Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan likened them to Nazis for refusing to allow his ministers to attend a pro-government meeting in Rotterdam to drum up support for an April referendum on expanding his powers.
“This country, as the mayor of Rotterdam pointed out yesterday, was bombed during the Second World War by the Nazis. It’s totally unacceptable to talk in this way,” Rutte said in The Hague.
The decision by Turkish Family Minister Fatma Betul Sayan Kaya to defy repeated Dutch warnings not to come to The Netherlands had led to “havoc,” he said.
He urged Dutch citizens to “keep your cool. We have a fantastic society… and most Dutch people with a Turkish background are well-integrated.”
Tensions remained high, with Erdogan warning on Sunday that the Netherlands would “pay a price” for its actions.
But Rutte said: “In the interest of our relations within the EU, with Turkey, it is now crucial to try and de-escalate events, not to add to this.
“Of course, if Turkey continues to talk in an inflammatory way about the Netherlands, we have to consider next steps.”
Rutte stood by his government’s decision to expel Kaya, saying she had been an “undesirable” visitor.
And in an interview with the Dutch public broadcaster NOS, he hit out at Ankara for treating Dutch people with Turkish roots as Turkish citizens.
“These are Dutch citizens,” Rutte insisted, adding that like Turkey “The Netherlands is a proud country”.
The Netherlands is home to some 400,000 people of Turkish origin, and Ankara is keen to harness votes of the diaspora in Europe ahead of an April 16 referendum on boosting the powers of the president.
Dutch police moved in early Sunday to break up protests, which erupted in Rotterdam over the incident, using water cannon, dogs and mounted horseback charges. Dutch media said that 12 people had been arrested and one officer was hurt.