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Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 14 December 2018

Austria bars Turkish minister for event marking coup anniversary

The planned event was 'very big' and the visit represented a 'danger for public order and security in Austria'

People shout slogans and hold Turkish national flags during a demonstration in Istanbul against the failed army coup attempt in July 2016. EPA / Marius Becker
People shout slogans and hold Turkish national flags during a demonstration in Istanbul against the failed army coup attempt in July 2016. EPA / Marius Becker

VIENNA // Austria has barred Turkish Economy Minister Nihat Zeybekci from entering the country to attend an event marking the anniversary of last year's failed coup in Turkey, a spokesman for Austria's foreign ministry said on Monday.

"He has been barred because his visit was not planned as part of a bilateral exchange but was about his public appearance at an event marking the coup attempt," foreign ministry spokesman Thomas Schnoell told AFP.

The planned event - scheduled to take place in Vienna on Sunday - was "very big" and the visit represented a "danger for public order and security in Austria", the spokesman added. There was no immediate comment from Turkey.

It is being organised by the Austrian branch of the Union of European Turkish Democrats (UETD), a pro-Ankara group present in several EU countries.

UETD spokesman Ramazan Aktas called Vienna's move "undemocratic".

The decision follows a similar move by the Netherlands, which said on Friday that Turkish Deputy Prime Minister Tugrul Turkes was not welcome to visit for a ceremony among Turkish expatriates to commemorate the anniversary.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan also complained last week that he was not allowed to speak to Turks in Germany during his visit to the country for a G20 leaders' summit, telling a newspaper that Germany was "committing suicide".

"I can confirm that [Austrian] Foreign Minister [Sebastian] Kurz has in fact forbidden the Turkish economy minister from entering the country," the spokesman for Austria's foreign ministry said, repeating comments he made earlier to ORF radio.

Austria has been one of the most vocal critics in the EU of Turkey's security crackdown since the failed coup last July in which 240 people were killed. Vienna has repeatedly called for Turkey's EU accession talks to be stopped.

In the past year 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.

Monday's decision also echoes a dispute in March between Turkey and several countries with large Turkish populations, including the Netherlands and Austria, which blocked pro-Erdogan rallies in the run-up to an April 16 referendum that granted him sweeping new powers.

Turkish ministers had been heading to Europe to whip up support for a "yes" vote among millions of Turkey's voters who live abroad.

Some 360,000 people of Turkish origin live in Austria, including 117,00 Turkish citizens. Many are believed to be pro-Erdogan supporters whose vote helped him win the referendum.