RECEP Tayyip Erdogan has accused Europe of starting a "clash" between Christianity and Islam with a ruling allowing employers to ban headscarfs as part of wider restrictions on religious and political symbols. Speaking hours after his foreign minister warned that "holy wars will soon begin", the Turkish President launched a fresh attack amid an ongoing row over the cancellation of his supporters' rallies across Europe.
He said the European Court of Justice ruling that upheld the dismissal of two Muslim women who refused to remove their hijabs started a "clash between crescent and cross" in terminology alluding to the Crusades. "Shame on the EU. Down with your European principles, values and justice," Mr Erdogan told supporters in Sakarya. "They started a clash between the cross and the crescent, there is no other explanation."
In a combative speech, Mr Erdogan hit out at European leaders in the Netherlands and Germany after Turkish ministers were prevented from holding events designed to drum up support ahead of a constitutional referendum. The Turkish President said the Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte, who beat far-right leader Geert Wilders in Wednesday's general election, had lost Ankara's friendship by banning Turkish political campaigning in the country.
The dispute has intensified since a rally to be held by the Turkish foreign minister Mevlut Cavusoglu in Rotterdam was cancelled on Saturday. The Dutch authorities withdrew permission for the foreign minister's plane to land when he vowed to visit the country regardless, sparking a series of tit-for-tat sanctions.
Mr Erdogan and prominent ministers have called the Dutch government "fascists" and "Nazis", while EU leaders have called the allegations offensive and "detached from reality". The dispute has sparked protests in Turkey and across Europe.
A protester scaled the Dutch consulate in Istanbul and replaced the national flag with the Turkish banner during demonstrations on Sunday, while Turkish protesters have been photographed stabbing oranges and holding signs reading "fascist Holland". Ankara also halted high-level talks with Dutch government officials on Monday and closed its airspace to the country's diplomats, while repeating threats to scrap a deal struck with the EU last year to slow the flow of refugees to Greece.
Allies of the Turkish President are targeting more than a million Turkish voters living in Europe who will be eligible to cast a ballot in the vote on April 16. The referendum could see Turkey's parliamentary system replaced with an executive presidency using constitutional amendments that have alarmed human rights groups by granting sweeping powers to Mr Erdogan.
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