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Austria 'bars Turkish minister from attending pro-government rally'

Austria says the minister's attendance at a rally was a 'danger to public order' [AFP]

Date of publication: 10 July, 2017

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Austria has refused to allow a Turkish minister to attend a rally marking the anniversary of the failed military coup, further straining relations between Ankara and Europe.
Austria said on Monday it had barred Turkey's economy minister from attending a rally in the country to mark the anniversary of last year's failed military coup.

But in condemning the move, Turkey has denied the Economy Ministry had requested such an event.

"Unlike the news reports, there has been no demand from Zeybekci or the ministry to organise an event on July 15, 2017 in Austria," the ministry stated.

"On the other hand, it is out of the question for the minister to have to request permission from anyone to meet our citizens in Austria or in any other part of the world," it added.

Commenting on the decision to bar Economy Minister Nihat Zeybekci, Austrian Foreign Minister Sebastian Kurz told ORF radio: "We do not want the heated atmosphere that exists in Turkey after the coup attempt and the waves of purges that followed it to take place in Austria."

Kurz's spokesman said such a visit would represent a "danger for public order and security in Austria".

Austrian Chancellor Christian Kern told ORF radio: "The Turkish government and its president are trying to exert political influence in Austria... We will not allow it."

Austria said Zeybekci was still welcome to visit for bilateral discussions but not to attend any rally.

Turkey's foreign ministry swiftly condemned the move this morning, which is set to further strain relations between Ankara and Austria, which has been one of the most vocal critics of Turkey's post-coup security crackdown.

The decision follows a similar move by the Netherlands and echoes restrictions imposed earlier this year by several EU countries on Turkish ministers seeking to address Turks living in Europe ahead of a vote on constitutional changes in Turkey.

Then as now European governments cited security concerns for the travel restrictions.

Since the coup, in which more than 240 people were killed, Turkey has jailed more than 50,000 people pending trial and suspended or dismissed some 150,000, including soldiers, teachers and civil servants, over alleged links with the exiled Muslim cleric Ankara blames for the coup.

Turkey says the crackdown is necessary due to the security threats it faces. It has previously accused Austria of being racist over its calls to halt Ankara's EU accession talks.

Turkish foreign ministry spokesman Huseyin Muftuoglu said Monday's announcement by Vienna was "telling".

"The blocking of our economy minister's planned visit shows that Austria is not sincere in its approach toward defending democratic values," he said in a written statement.

Last week the Dutch government barred a Turkish deputy prime minister from visiting the Netherlands to commemorate the anniversary of the coup.

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan has complained that he was not allowed to speak to Turks in Germany during his visit to Hamburg over the weekend for a summit of G20 leaders, telling a newspaper that Germany was "committing suicide".

The April 16 referendum granted Erdogan sweeping new powers, drawing criticism from EU countries that Turkey is drifting toward authoritarianism.

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