Recep Tayyip Erdogan: EU ruling on headscarf bans starts 'clash between Islam and Christianity'

Comments came hours after foreign minister claimed 'holy wars will soon begin' in Europe

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Recep Tayyip Erdogan has accused Europe of staring a “clash” between Christianity and Islam with a ruling allowing employers to ban headscarves as part of wider restrictions on religious and political symbols.

Speaking hours after his foreign minister warned that “holy wars will soon begin”, the Turkish President launched a fresh attack amid an ongoing row over the cancellation of his supporters’ rallies across Europe.

He said the European Court of Justice ruling that upheld the dismissal of two Muslim women who refused to remove their hijabs started a “clash between crescent and cross” in terminology alluding to the Crusades.

“Shame on the EU. Down with your European principles, values and justice," Mr Erdogan told supporters in Sakarya. "They started a clash between the cross and the crescent, there is no other explanation."

Hundreds of pro-Turkey protesters clash with police in Rotterdam

In a combative speech, Mr Erdogan hit out at European leaders in Netherlands and Germany after Turkish ministers were presented from holding events drumming up support ahead of a constitutional referendum.

The Turkish President said the Dutch Prime Minister, who beat far-right leader Geert Wilders in Wednesday's general election, had lost Ankara's friendship by banning Turkish political campaigning in the country.

“Oh Mark Rutte, you may have come out as the first party, but you should know that you have lost a friend like Turkey,” Mr Erdogan added. 

The dispute has intensified since a rally to be held by foreign minister Mevlut Cavusoglu in Rotterdam was cancelled on Saturday.

Dutch authorities withdrew permission for the foreign minister’s plane to land when he vowed to visit the country regardless, sparking a series of tit-for-tat sanctions.

Mr Cavusolglu claimed the "mentality" of Dutch and European politicians would spark "holy wars" in Europe on Thursday, claiming there was no difference between Mr Rutte's victorious party and "fascist" Mr Wilders.

The Turkish President and prominent ministers have called the Dutch government “fascists” and “Nazis”, while EU leaders have called the allegations offensive and “detached from reality”.

The dispute has sparked protests in Turkey and across Europe. A protester scaled the Dutch consulate in Istanbul and replaced the national flag with the Turkish banner during demonstrations on Sunday, while Turkish protesters have been photographed stabbing oranges and holding signs reading “fascist Holland”.

Ankara also halted high-level talks with Dutch government officials on Monday and closed its airspace to the country’s diplomats, while repeating threats to scrap a deal struck with the EU last year to slow the flow of refugees to Greece. 

“You bar my minister from entering the Netherlands...and then you expect us to grant access to migrants?” Mr Erdogan said. “There can be no such thing.”

Allies of the Turkish President are targeting more than a million Turkish voters living in Europe who will be eligible to cast a ballot in the vote on 16 April.

The referendum could see Turkey’s parliamentary system replaced with an executive presidency using constitutional amendments that have alarmed human rights groups by granting sweeping powers to Mr Erdogan.

Areas of Germany, Switzerland and Austria have stopped rallies supporting the change - with all citing safety and administrative reasons - but the cancellations have been seen as a response to a security crackdowns and purges following an attempted coup.

Angela Merkel's office said she discussed the tensions between EU nations and Turkey with Francois Hollande in a phone call on Thursday.

The two leaders reiterated that Nazi allegations levelled against Turkey's Nato allies were “unacceptable”, while the French President expressed solidarity with Germany and other affected countries.

A statement from the German government said the pair agreed that appearances by Turkish politicians in Germany and France can be approved - if they are “registered in good time and transparently, and adhere strictly” to national law.

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