Netherlands, Turkey renew diplomatic ties after freeze

by Charlotte VAN OUWERKERK
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Protests erupted among Turkish residents in the Dutch port city of Rotterdam in March 2017 after the authorities banned visits by Turkish ministers

Protests erupted among Turkish residents in the Dutch port city of Rotterdam in March 2017 after the authorities banned visits by Turkish ministers

Turkey and the Netherlands on Friday ended months of enmity and agreed to restore diplomatic ties snapped last year when two Turkish ministers were barred from a Rotterdam rally, triggering riots.

The thawing of relations came after the foreign ministers of both countries met on the sidelines of NATO summit in Brussels last week, the two governments said in a statement.

They discussed "the regretful events" of March 2017 that led to "a deterioration of the relations," the English-language statement said.

Following a letter and a telephone call between Dutch Foreign Minister Stef Blok and his Turkish counterpart Mevlut Cavusoglu, they "agreed to normalise the diplomatic relations between the Netherlands and Turkey".

They also agreed "to reinstate ambassadors in Ankara and The Hague shortly," with the Dutch foreign minister also to make an official visit to Turkey later this year.

Both nations "underlined the importance of strategic cooperation between both countries on a range of issues, such as migration, combatting terrorism and fostering economic cooperation," the statement added.

The Netherlands withdrew its ambassador to Turkey in February as relations plunged to new lows in a festering dispute that began when the Dutch expelled Turkey's Family Minister Fatma Betul Sayan Kayar in March 2017.

Betul Sayan Kayar had defied a Dutch government ban, and arrived by car from Germany to press for the powers of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to be extended in the April 2017 referendum during a rally in Rotterdam.

Protests erupted as Dutch police stopped her from addressing the crowd, barred her from entering the consulate and then gave her a motorcade escort out of the country several hours later.

Dutch officials also banned Cavusoglu's plane from landing as he too sought to attend the rally in the port city.

Tempers flared among protesters, and riot police had to move in to break up an angry demonstration using dogs, horses and water cannon, adding to political tensions just days before a Dutch general election.

- 'Turning the page' -

Furious Turkish officials in vain demanded an apology for the minister's treatment from Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte, who accused Turkish officials of interfering with his own country's democratic process.

Erdogan accused the Dutch of behaving like "fascists" in their treatment of the Turkish ministers -- comments which triggered anger in a country occupied by Nazi Germany in World War II.

The Netherlands is home to some 400,000 people of Turkish origin, and the two countries have had diplomatic relations for some four centuries. But in recent years ties have deteriorated, also due to the treatment of Dutch-Turkish citizens in Turkey, including one journalist who was arrested after being critical of Erdogan.

"It's good that Turkey and the Netherlands turned the page together and that we have restored relations," said Blok.

"The cooperation between the Netherlands and Turkey is essential on a number of issues including the fight against the Islamic State group, the risk of (jihadist) fighters returning from Syria, but also our concerns over the human rights situation in Turkey."

Protests erupted among Turkish residents in the Dutch port city of Rotterdam in March 2017 after the authorities banned visits by Turkish ministers

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan had accused the Dutch of behaving like "racists" over their treatment of Turkish ministers last year

Netherland's Prime Minister Mark Rutte said at the time of the row that Turkey was interfering with his own country's political process