ANKARA, Turkey – Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan ramped up his anti-European rhetoric on Wednesday, warning that the safety of Western citizens could be in peril if European nations persist in what he described as arrogant conduct.
Erdogan's remarks came amid tension over Dutch and German restrictions on Turkish officials who tried to campaign for diaspora votes ahead of an April 16 referendum on expanding the powers of the Turkish presidency.
"Turkey is not a country that can be pushed and shoved, whose honor can be toyed with, whose ministers can be ousted, whose citizens can be dragged on the ground," Erdogan told Turkish media representatives in Ankara, the Turkish capital.
"These developments are being watched in all corners of the world," he said. "If you continue this way, tomorrow no European, no Westerner anywhere in the world will be able to step onto the streets safely, with peace of mind."
Erdogan did not elaborate. While it is questionable whether the spat between Turkey and Europe would ignite global indignation against the West, the president's remarks are followed closely by his supporters in a NATO member country with significant numbers of Western residents and visitors. This month, he said the European Union was provoking "a struggle between the cross and crescent," casting the tension as a dispute between the West and Islam.
While some commentators believe Turkish criticism of Europe is designed to rally nationalist support for a "yes" vote and could subside after the referendum, the president's warning of possible threats to Europeans was likely to further test ties with Europe, Turkey's No. 1 trading partner.
Earlier this month, the Turkish foreign minister was barred from landing in the Netherlands, and supporters of the Turkish government scuffled with police who tried to end a demonstration at the Turkish consulate in Rotterdam.
Germany's new president, meanwhile, urged Turkey not to cut ties with European partners.
Berlin recognized the economic progress Turkey has made in the last 20 years and condemned last year's attempted coup against Erdogan's government, Frank-Walter Steinmeier said in his first speech since taking the largely ceremonial office. He was recently Germany's foreign minister.
"My appeal is guided by this concern: President Erdogan, you are endangering everything that you and others have helped build," Steinmeier told a joint session of Parliament.
He urged Turkey to stop accusing Germany of acting like the Nazis did and release German-Turkish journalist Deniz Yucel, who has been detained since January on charges of disseminating terrorist propaganda and inciting hatred.
Yucel, a correspondent for Germany's Die Welt newspaper, was arrested after his report about a hacker attack on the email account of the Turkish energy minister, who is Erdogan's son-in-law.
Also Wednesday, a group of Turkish officers based in Norway who had refused to return to Turkey after the failed coup attempt have been granted political asylum in the Scandinavian country, said their lawyer, Kjell M. Brygfjeld. Newspaper Verdens Gang said they feared being arrested on returning to Turkey.
Norwegian justice and immigration authorities declined to comment.
Turkish Justice Minister Bekir Bozdag described the Norwegian decision as unacceptable, saying "Europe should not become a safe-haven for coup plotters, for terrorists and murderers," the state-run Anadolu Agency reported.
In January, Greece granted asylum to some Turkish servicemen suspected of involvement in the July 15 uprising, which killed about 270 people and prompted a massive crackdown on suspected collaborators.
European leaders expressed concern that Turkish government critics who had not done anything illegal were being targeted, and have questioned whether anti-government fugitives wanted in Turkey would get a fair trial.
Torchia reported from Istanbul. Associated Press writers Frank Jordans in Berlin and Jan M. Olsen in Copenhagen, Denmark contributed to this report.