ISTANBUL, Turkey — Europe has been stripped of its mask and its real face is one of "fascism, racism and Islamophobia," Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Sunday.
Erdogan, speaking at a rally in support of constitutional changes that would tighten his grip on power, expressed anger at recent bans on speeches planned by Turkish ministers in Germany and the Netherlands.
The ministers have been pressing Erdogan's case to Turkish expats in Europe ahead of a crucial April 16 referendum on the changes, and increasing pushback from European leaders has caused tensions to rise.
"The West has thrown off its mask in the past days," Erdogan said Sunday. "I have said that I had thought Nazism was over, but that I was wrong. Nazism is alive in the West."
On Saturday, the Dutch government canceled Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu's flight permit to the Netherlands, then refused to allow a convoy carrying Turkish Family Minister Fatma Betul Sayan Kaya to enter the Turkish consulate in Rotterdam, instead ushering her to the German border.
"Democracy, fundamental rights, human rights and freedoms... All forgotten in Rotterdam tonight. Merely tyranny and oppression," she tweeted.
Several dozen people, some waving red Turkish flags, gathered Sunday in a cold drizzle outside the Dutch consulate here to denounce the treatment of Turks in the Netherlands.
"They want to divide us so we need to be united, hand in hand," said Nimet Ceylán, one of several speakers. "We have to tell the (Turkish) state, what they did to you we have to do the same to them."
"Junkie Holland," the crowd chanted. "Damn Holland" and "Allahu Akbar (God is great)!"
Among the mostly male demonstrators were several women wearing hijabs. They raised their hands in a four-fingered salute that has come to represent Islamic solidarity after Egypt's brutal crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood in 2013.
Half or more of the width of Istiklal (Freedom) Street, the cobblestoned pedestrian walkway where the consulate resides, was blocked by police barricades. Buses blocked most of the consulate gate and a squad of police officers in body armor and bearing shields stood in formation across from the chanters.
The street, which is lined with cafes and stores that sell leather goods, clothing, trinkets and pastries is usually a tourist destination that links Taksim Square with Galata Tower, two other popular tourist sites. But on Sunday, the police vans parked across the way, and a phalanx of uniformed guards frisking all passersby appeared to have discouraged most foreigners.
A few blocks down the road, at the Kitabevi Cafe, other Istanbulians sipped coffee or jasmine tea and listened to jazzy pop music as they perused bookshelves lined with volumes in Turkish and German, not interested in the ruckus up the street.
"Protest, no problem," said customer Ceniz Chiftcioglu. "I don't care."
Last week, Turkish ministers were barred from holding public rallies in two German cities. Erdogan accused Germany of "Nazi practices," an accusation that drew a sharp rebuke from German Chancellor Angela Merkel.
On Sunday, Denmark Prime Minister Lars Loekke Rasmussen said he asked Turkish counterpart Binali Yildirim to postpone a planned visit because of “tensions” between Ankara and the Netherlands, the Associated Press reported. Local French officials in Metz however, agreed to allow a rally there, saying it did not pose a threat to public safety. That drew a nod from Erdogan, who thanked France for not "getting involved in such games."
Dutch leaders say the Turkish rallies could increase tensions days before Dutch elections Wednesday that have drawn international attention. Populist Geert Wilders and his far-right Freedom Party, which has pledged to end Muslim immigration, close the nation's mosques and ban the Koran, have shown polling strength.
Hundreds of thousands of Dutch citizens have Turkish roots and could have voting rights in both nations. Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte said Sunday that he would attempt to repair relations with Erdogan and Turkey. Erdogan said Turkey would watch the election results and decide on its future relationship with the Netherlands, the Turkish Anadolu news agency reported.
"If you are sacrificing Turkish-Dutch relations for an election, you will pay the price," Erdogan warned. He said countries that ban his ministers against Turkey would soon "learn what international diplomacy is."
Bacon reported from McLean, Va.