BERLIN (AP) — Germany's government reserves the right to impose entry bans on Turkish officials hoping to campaign in the country, though the measure would be a "last resort," Chancellor Angela Merkel's chief of staff said Wednesday.
Peter Altmaier's comments followed days of escalating tensions between Turkey and two European Union nations, Germany and the Netherlands, over Turkish politicians' hopes to campaign there ahead of their country's constitutional referendum next month.
At the European Parliament, EU leaders voiced solidarity with the Netherlands and condemned Nazi parallels drawn by Turkish officials.
But Turkey's president lashed out again at the Dutch — repeating an assertion that they were responsible for the slaughter of Bosnian Muslims in Srebrenica in 1995 and saying that "they have nothing to do with the civilized world; they have nothing to do with the modern world."
Turkey reacted furiously last week to some local German authorities' decisions to block appearances by Turkish ministers, with President Recep Tayyip Erdogan accusing Germany of "Nazi practices." In recent days, Erdogan has labeled the Netherlands as "Nazi remnants" after it prevented two Turkish ministers from making campaign appearances.
Germany's federal government so far has said it won't impose a blanket ban, though the governor of Saarland state — which holds a regional election March 26 — said Tuesday she wants to prevent any such rallies there. It appears that none were planned.
Altmaier told the Funke newspaper group that Germany, like every other country, has the right to prevent members of foreign governments from entering. He said he couldn't remember that ever happening in Germany.
Altmaier said that, over the past 10 years, Turkish politicians' campaign appearances in Germany have been in line with German laws. He noted that the Nazi parallels so far have been drawn in Turkey, not in Germany.
But "the fact that the federal government so far hasn't exhausted its possibilities under international law is not a free pass for the future," Altmaier was quoted as saying.
"We will look very carefully at what is defensible and what is not," he added. "An entry ban would be the last resort. We reserve the right to do that."
Speaking at the European Parliament in Strasbourg, France, EU Council President Donald Tusk noted that the Nazi comments followed a dispute over campaign appearances in Rotterdam — a city that was bombed by Nazi Germany in World War II and now has a Moroccan-born mayor.
"If anyone sees fascism in Rotterdam, they are completely detached from reality," Tusk said. He added that "we all show solidarity with the Netherlands."
Jean-Claude Juncker, who heads the EU's executive Commission, said he was "scandalized" by Turkey's Nazi comparisons.
"My home country, Luxembourg, was occupied by the Nazis," he said. "Our people were suffering. My father was forced into the German army together with his three brothers."
"If you are establishing a comparison of that period with our times, this is totally unacceptable," Juncker added. "And the one who is doing this is taking distance from Europe and not trying to enter the European Union."
Turkey has been in slow-moving talks on EU membership for over a decade.
Later Wednesday, Erdogan said he had given instructions for a "twinning" agreement between Istanbul and Rotterdam to be scrapped, saying that "it is not possible to be twins under such conditions."
As well as renewing his accusations about the Srebrenica massacre, he said the EU was "drowning" in its fear of Muslims and refugees.
Around 8,000 Muslim men and boys were killed by Bosnian Serb troops in Srebrenica. A Dutch battalion of U.N. peacekeepers failed to halt the slaughter.
Survivors and their relatives voiced outrage over the use of their suffering in Turkey's feud with the Netherlands.
Hajra Catic, whose son and husband were among those killed by Serb forces, said it was "a sin" to trade political barbs "over the bones of our killed children."
Suzan Fraser in Ankara, Turkey, contributed to this report.