March 16, 2017 / 4:33 PM / 7 months ago

Europe headed for 'religion wars' despite Wilders' stumble, Turkish minister says

ANKARA (Reuters) - Anti-Islam politician Geert Wilders may have fallen short in this week’s election in the Netherlands, but his views were shared by all the Dutch parties and are pushing Europe towards “wars of religion”, Turkey’s foreign minister said on Thursday.

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu addresses supporters during a political rally on Turkey's upcoming referendum, in Metz, France, March 12, 2017. REUTERS/Vincent Kessler

Centre-right Prime Minister Mark Rutte fended off the Wilders challenge in a victory hailed across Europe by governments facing a rising wave of nationalism.

The reaction in Ankara was less sanguine. Turkey has been locked in a deepening row with the Netherlands after the Dutch barred Turkish ministers from holding rallies among overseas Turks.

“Many parties have received a similar share of votes. Seventeen percent, 20 percent, there are lots of parties like this, but they are all the same,” Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said at a rally in the southern city of Antalya.

“There is no difference between the mindsets of Geert Wilders and social democrats in the Netherlands. They all have the same mindset ... That mindset is taking Europe to the cliff. Soon wars of religion may and will start in Europe.”

Turkey on Monday suspended high-level relations with the Netherlands after the Dutch cited public safety in banning its ministers from addressing expatriate Turks. Their votes are being sought in a campaign for a referendum that would give President Tayyip Erdogan sweeping new powers.

Erdogan, who is counting on the overseas Turks in the April 16 vote, has accused the Dutch government of acting like “Nazi remnants”. On Thursday, he said the diplomatic row had cost Rutte Ankara’s friendship.

“Hey Rutte, you may have won the election as first party, but you have lost a friend like Turkey,” Erdogan told flag-waving crowds at a pro-referendum rally in the northwestern province of Sakarya.

He also slammed the European Union for a ruling allowing companies to ban staff from wearing Islamic headscarves under certain conditions.

“Shame on the EU,” Erdogan said. “Down with your European principles, values and justice ... They started a clash between the cross and the crescent, there is no other explanation.”

Although a majority Muslim country, Turkey is officially secular and headscarves were banned for decades in the civil service and universities. Erdogan and the Islamist-rooted AK Party he founded fought to overturn those bans, which they see as discriminatory, and to bring religion into public life.

Editing by David Dolan and Ralph Boulton, Larry King

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