ANKARA, Turkey (AP) — 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 said in a speech to 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.
While tensions between Europe and Turkey have boiled in recent weeks, acrimony over Turkey's belief that some European countries are harboring suspected terrorists has festered for years. Europe, in turn, questions whether fugitives wanted in Turkey would get a fair trial, and says free speech laws and other rights protect many dissidents.
Turkey's candidacy for membership in the European Union, meanwhile, has virtually collapsed.
Turkey will ask the Netherlands to extradite a Turkish leftist militant, a Turkish official, speaking on condition of anonymity in line with government protocol, said Wednesday. Seher Demir Sen, accused of being a leader of the outlawed Revolutionary People's Liberation Party-Front, or DHKP-C, is alleged to be behind a 2013 suicide bombing at the U.S. Embassy in Ankara. A security guard was killed in the attack.
In January, Turkey condemned a Greek court ruling that granted asylum to eight Turkish military servicemen allegedly involved in a failed coup attempt in Turkey last year.
Erdogan has also criticized Germany for allowing a rally this past weekend of thousands of ethnic Kurds, some of whom expressed support for a jailed rebel leader in Turkey.
The Turkish president said Wednesday that Turkey presented Germany with 4,500 files concerning extradition requests and activities linked to the Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK, whose separatist insurgency against the Turkish state began in 1984.
Erdogan claimed that Germany acted with double standards by saying that the German judiciary would deal with the files, and then asking Turkey to interfere with its own judiciary to secure the release of the correspondent of Germany's Die Welt newspaper.
Journalist Deniz Yucel, who has German and Turkish citizenship, was arrested last month in Turkey on charges of disseminating terrorist propaganda and inciting hatred. He was detained after his reports about a hacker attack on the email account of the country's energy minister, who is Erdogan's son-in-law.
Erdogan has accused Yucel of being a German spy and a PKK associate. Germany dismissed Erdogan's claims as absurd.
Torchia reported from Istanbul.