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Erdogan says Turkey will review EU ties after April referendum

President of Turkey Recep Tayyip Erdogan speaks in a press conference in Ankara, Turkey on 23rd March [Kayhan Özer/Anadolu Agency]
President of Turkey Recep Tayyip Erdogan speaks in a press conference in Ankara, Turkey on 23rd March [Kayhan Özer/Anadolu Agency]

Turkey will review all political and administrative ties with the European Union after an April referendum, including a deal to curb illegal migration, but will maintain economic relations with the bloc, President Tayyip Erdogan said on Thursday.

In an interview with broadcaster CNN Turk, Erdogan said everything "from A to Z" in Turkey's relations with Europe would be reviewed after the April 16 referendum on constitutional changes that would extend his powers.

He also said he would meet "face to face" with the new US administration in May. The relationship between Erdogan and US President Donald Trump, both populist leaders, will be closely watched, with ties between the NATO allies deeply strained.

Turkey has been incensed by US support for a Kurdish militia in Syria it sees as a terrorist group, and by the continued presence in the United States of Fethullah Gulen, the Turkish cleric Ankara blames for a failed coup last July and wants extradited.

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Turkey's relations with the European Union have meanwhile become particularly acrimonious after Germany and the Netherlands cancelled planned campaign rallies on their territory by Turkish officials seeking to drum up support for a "yes" vote in the April referendum.

Both cited security concerns for their decision, but Erdogan has accused them of using "Nazi methods" and trampling on free speech. He made no apology on Thursday for the comparison.

"You get disturbed when we say it is fascism, it's Nazism, but what you are doing fits in that definition," he said.

Erdogan said European countries were allowing events for the "no" campaign while banning Turkish officials from rallying his supporters. He accused Germany of supporting terrorism and said he had no plans to visit the country before the referendum, contrary to some recent media reports.

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The European Commission earlier said it had summoned the Turkish ambassador to explain comments by Erdogan that Europeans would not be able to "walk safely on the streets" if they kept up their current attitude towards Turkey.

Despite the row, German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel said during a trip to Athens on Thursday that communication channels between the EU and Turkey must remain open.

The row has placed Europe in an awkward position with Ankara, which has seen its decades-old bid to join the bloc move at snail's pace due to concerns over its human rights record, ethnically-split Cyprus, and reluctance among some European countries to admit a largely Muslim nation.

Turkey is an integral part of a deal to keep hundreds of thousands of refugees and migrants fleeing the Middle East and beyond from moving to Europe, in return for 3 billion euros ($3.23 billion) in EU financial aid to Ankara.

Erdogan also said a US and British ban on devices bigger than a cellphone in the cabin on flights from several countries including Turkey had damaged mutual confidence and said he hoped the mistake would be corrected soon.

Turkish Airlines, which is 49 percent state-owned, could be particularly hit by the restrictions. More than half of its international passengers are transit customers who could instead travel through Europe or other hubs.

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