November 28, 2014 / 5:33 PM / 3 years ago

Dutch lawmakers demand explanation from Turkey over race spat

AMSTERDAM (Reuters) - Opposition lawmakers on Friday demanded that the Dutch government seek clarification from Turkey after Ankara appeared to accuse the Netherlands of racism and Islamophobia against its ethnic Turkish population.

Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte speaks during a joint news conference with Malaysia's Prime Minister Najib Razak in Putrajaya November 5, 2014. REUTERS/Olivia Harris

What began as a domestic Dutch political row escalated into a diplomatic spat this week after the Turkish Foreign Ministry said on Wednesday Turkish immigrants were being discriminated against in the Netherlands.

The Turkish comments came in response to the resignation this month of two members of the Dutch parliament, both of Turkish descent, over the immigration policy of Deputy Prime Minister Lodewijk Asscher of the Labour Party.

“Turkish society in the Netherlands is being subjected to discrimination and is the target of xenophobia, Islamophobia and racist accusations,” Turkey’s statement said. “We expect Dutch authorities to end all statements that could damage ... bilateral relations.”

The Netherlands is home to one of the world’s largest Turkish communities and people of Turkish descent make up more than 2 percent of the 17 million population, or nearly 400,000.

The opposition lawmakers sent written questions to the Dutch foreign minister, urging the government not to back down in confronting Turkey over the remarks.

“I want the government to take a stance,” foreign affairs spokesman for the opposition Christian Democratic Appeal, Pieter Omtzigt, told Reuters.

The resignations of Tunahan Kuzu and Selçuk Öztürk, who were in Asscher’s own Labour Party, signals a hardening of the immigration debate in a country that has become increasingly wary of immigration in the past decade.

Support for anti-Islam politician Geert Wilders has risen and left-wing parties have adopted a tougher stance on foreigners.

The confrontation also threatens to strain relations between Ankara and The Hague, which is a NATO ally and has supported Turkey with Patriot missile defense systems to help protect its border with Syria.

Dutch Foreign Minister Bert Koenders and Prime Minister Mark Rutte sought to ease tensions, but also stressed that Dutch immigration policy was an internal matter.

“The Netherlands has its own policies on integration and does not need interference in this from other countries,” Koenders said on Friday.

Turkey’s government, long hailed as upholding a balance between Islamism and democratic pluralism, has been accused by critics as having moved in an authoritarian direction in recent years.

Additional reporting by Ece Toksabay in Istanbul; Editing by Anthony Deutsch and Alison Williams

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