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Turkish ruling party moves to end European campaigning

Last Updated Mar 21, 2017 at 11:00 am PDT

ISTANBUL – Turkish lawmakers are wrapping up political campaign events in Europe ahead of a referendum on expanding the powers of the country’s president, in a move that could reduce tensions after a bitter spat with some European nations.

Dutch and German restrictions on Turkish officials who have tried to campaign for diaspora votes on the constitutional referendum angered Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who compared the two European countries to the Nazi regime. European leaders, in turn, said Erdogan’s remarks were unacceptable.

“It is just that with the closing of Parliament, the representatives will be heading to their districts, everyone will primarily be working at their electoral districts,” an official of Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party said on Tuesday by telephone from party headquarters in Ankara, the capital.

The official, who spoke on customary condition of anonymity, said the decision has nothing to do with the animosity between European nations and Turkey.

“Foreign election co-ordinationcentres will be continuing their operations,” the official said, adding that previously scheduled political rallies could still take place in Europe.

German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel welcomed the news, saying “if the Turkish election campaigns are now coming to an end, let us hope that the Turkish voters in Germany will be able to consider with a little more peace and quiet where they will make their ‘X’ starting Monday.”

The head of the Union of European Turkish Democrats, which is seen as being close to Turkey’s ruling party, told German broadcaster RBB-Inforadio that the tension caused by the rallies was “counterproductive” for both sides.

“We do not want to see tension in Germany continuing to rise,” he said. He added that “in return, we expect Turkey-bashing and Erdogan-bashing to be at least reduced.”

Earlier Tuesday, the European Union official overseeing the bloc’s expansion efforts said Turkish membership will become “more and more unrealistic” unless Ankara changes course soon.

EU Enlargement Commissioner Johannes Hahn told Germany’s Bild daily that “with regard to the strict accession criteria, Turkey has been moving further and further away from the EU for some time.”

Turkey has been in EU membership talks since 2005. There is increasing concern among European nations about what they view as an accelerating slide toward authoritarian practices under Erdogan.

Erdogan, meanwhile, said his government would be “having a talk” with Europe after the April 16 referendum on presidential powers. But he did not sound conciliatory.

“It cannot continue like this, Turkey will do whatever is necessary,” Erdogan said.

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Associated Press writer David Rising in Berlin contributed to this report.