July 10, 2017 / 5:46 AM / a month ago

Austria bars Turkish economy minister for event marking coup anniversary

Turkey's Economy Minister Nihat Zeybekci makes a speech in Cologne, Germany, March 5, 2017.Wolfgang Rattay/Files

VIENNA (Reuters) - Austria said on Monday it had barred a Turkish minister from attending an event in the country to mark the anniversary of last year's failed coup in Turkey.

Turkey's foreign ministry swiftly condemned the move, which adds to strains in relations between Ankara and Europe.

Commenting on the decision to bar Economy Minister Nihat Zeybekci, Austrian Foreign Minister Sebastian Kurz told ORF radio: "We do not want the heated atmosphere that exists in Turkey after the coup attempt and the waves of purges that followed it to take place in Austria."

Kurz's spokesman said such a visit would represent a "danger for public order and security in Austria".

Austrian Chancellor Christian Kern told ORF radio: "The Turkish government and its president are trying to exert political influence in Austria... We will not allow it."

The decision follows a similar move by the Netherlands and echoes restrictions imposed earlier this year by several EU countries on Turkish ministers seeking to address Turks living in Europe ahead of a vote on constitutional changes in Turkey.

Then as now European governments cited security concerns for the travel restrictions.

VOCAL CRITIC

Austria said Zeybekci was still welcome to visit for bilateral discussions but not to attend any rally.

Austria has been one of the most vocal critics in the European Union of Turkey's security crackdown since the failed coup last July.

Since the coup, in which more than 240 people were killed, Turkey has jailed more than 50,000 people pending trial and suspended or dismissed some 150,000, including soldiers, teachers and civil servants, over alleged links with the exiled Muslim cleric Ankara blames for the coup.

Turkey says the crackdown is necessary due to the security threats it faces. It has previously accused Austria of being racist over its calls to halt Ankara's EU accession talks.

Turkish foreign ministry spokesman Huseyin Muftuoglu said Monday's announcement by Vienna was "telling".

"The blocking of our economy minister's planned visit shows that Austria is not sincere in its approach towards defending democratic values," he said in a written statement.

Last week the Dutch government barred a Turkish deputy prime minister from visiting the Netherlands to commemorate the anniversary of the coup.

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan has complained that he was not allowed to speak to Turks in Germany during his visit to Hamburg over the weekend for a summit of G20 leaders, telling a newspaper that Germany was "committing suicide".

The April 16 referendum granted Erdogan sweeping new powers, drawing criticism from EU countries that Turkey is drifting towards authoritarianism.

It was not clear what kind of visit Zeybekci had planned. While Turkey's Foreign Ministry seemed to confirm he had sought to visit the anniversary event, the economy ministry said there had been no such request.

It said, however, that there were plans for Zeybekci to hold talks with Austrian ministers on developing economic ties.

Reporting by Francois Murphy and Shadia Nasralla in Vienna, Ece Toksabay in Ankara, Daren Butler in Istanbul; Editing by Gareth Jones

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