World Bulletin / News Desk
Defying possible bans, Turkey’s foreign minister has said that he will go to the Netherlands this Saturday to hold a rally on the upcoming constitutional referendum.
"I will go there Saturday and hold my rally. You can close the halls, whatever you do, we can find somewhere [to hold it]," Mevlut Cavusoglu told reporters Thursday.
Cavusoglu added that he could also visit the Netherlands following Turkey’s April 16 constitutional referendum if invited by his Dutch counterpart Bert Koenders "if he asks properly,” adding, “We will never give into pressure” to cancel the rally.
He added: "If he said, 'This [rally] is impossible no matter what,' I will [still] go there this Saturday."
Cavusoglu's remarks came amid Ankara’s heightened tensions with the Netherlands and Germany after officials in both countries tried to block rallies ahead of the referendum, which would shift Turkey to a presidential system.
Barring Turkish ministers from holding rallies in Germany is "systematic" and "totally unacceptable," Turkey's EU Minister Omer Celik said Tuesday.
Last Friday a planned rally in the Netherlands was barred by Dutch officials, with Prime Minister Mark Rutte saying, "The Netherlands is not a place for other countries' election rallies."
"We believe that the Dutch public space is not the place for political campaigns of other countries," he added on Facebook.
"Nobody can prevent us to meet with our citizens abroad where they live," countered Cavusoglu.
- Geert Wilders protests
Far-right Dutch politician Geert Wilders Wednesday protested against the Turkish foreign minister's plan to campaign in the Netherlands.
In front of Turkish embassy in The Hague, the Freedom Party (PVV) leader protested against a potential referendum rally to be held by Mevlut Cavusoglu.
Alongside banners in Turkish and Dutch reading, "Stay away, this is our country,” Wilders read out a press release saying the constitutional changes would give too much power to the Turkish president.
“We cannot allow Turkish ministers to come to the Netherlands to lobby for such a regime in our country,” he said.
Pointing to Wilders' protest against his rally in the Netherlands, Çavuşoglu stressed: "We are not afraid of threats from fascists like Wilders."
- Constitutional changes
Constitutional reform and the change to a presidential system have been on the political agenda since Recep Tayyip Erdogan, a former prime minister and Justice and Development (AK) Party leader, was elected president in August 2014.
This marked the first time a Turkish president was directly chosen by popular vote.
On Jan. 20, Turkish lawmakers from the ruling AK Party and the opposition Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) voted in favor of the constitutional reform package.
Aside from the change to a presidential system, other reforms include allowing the president to maintain political party affiliation.
There would also be changes to Turkey’s highest judicial body, which would be renamed while retaining its independence and own budget.
The referendum is scheduled to be held on April 16.
- Manbij operation against YPG/PYD/PKK
FM Cavusoglu also addressed the situation in the Syrian city of Manbij, which he said should be cleared from YPG terrorist organization.
"The YPG wants to move ahead in western Syria to establish a terror canton."
Cavusoglu said the Russian and Syrian regimes were taking the side of the YPG in Syria nowadays. "YPG, as terrorist organization, wants to gain more territory [...] in Syria."
He added: "The YPG does not have any problem with ISIL. The most important thing was to clear the YPG from Syrian city of Manbij."
The YPG is a group on which the U.S. has consistently relied as its principal partner in the anti-ISIL fight in northern Syria.
Turkey has designated the YPG as the Syrian offshoot of the terrorist PKK. The U.S. and EU have similarly labeled the PKK, but have refrained from following suit on the YPG, to Ankara’s consternation.
Turkey has insisted YPG elements leave Manbij and withdraw east of the Euphrates River.