VIENNA (AFP) – An Austrian town on Friday banned a rally which a senior official from Turkey’s ruling AKP party was set to attend, in a growing international row over the country’s referendum campaign.
The gathering was due to take place in the western Austrian town of Hoerbranz but police said it was called off over “risks of public disorder” ahead of Turkey’s controversial April 16 referendum on expanding President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s powers.
Turkish ministers have been heading to Europe to whip up support for a “yes” vote among millions of Turkey’s voters who live abroad. Some 360,000 people of Turkish origin call Austria home, including 117,000 Turkish citizens.
But the ministers have been sparring with governments — especially Germany’s — after a string of their events were cancelled by local authorities, ostensibly for logistical reasons.
Experts from rights watchdog Council of Europe’s independent Venice Commission said on Friday the proposed changes to the Turkish constitution were a “dangerous step backwards” for democracy.
Erdogan has angrily compared the cancellations of events in Germany linked to the referendum campaign to “Nazi practices”, drawing sharp criticism from Berlin.
Friday’s event in Austria was billed as a “book presentation” attended by former Turkish energy minister Taner Yildiz, but police said organisers were in reality planning a “political rally” gathering some 400 people.
Austrian Foreign Minister Sebastian Kurz on Friday urged Ankara “not to export domestic politics to Austria”.
“This hinders integration in Austria,” he said in a statement.
Local officials have also called for a Turkish gathering due to take place Saturday evening in the northern town of Linz, attended by AKP lawmaker Muhammet Mufit Aydin, to be banned.
Ties with Ankara have been strained over the crackdown that followed last July’s attempted coup against Erdogan.
Austria’s ruling coalition has been divided for several days over a possible bill to ban all foreign politicians from campaigning on national territory.