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BERLIN (AP) — German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Monday rejected remarks by Turkey's president accusing officials of "Nazi practices," days after a local authority in Germany prevented a Turkish minister from addressing a rally.
"One cannot seriously comment on such misplaced statements," Merkel said at an event in Berlin, the dpa news agency reported.
Diplomatic tensions have been rising in recent days amid Turkish plans to have government ministers address rallies in Germany and the Netherlands in support of a national referendum on constitutional reform that would give Erdogan more powers.
Last week, local authorities in southwestern Germany withdrew permission for Turkey's justice minister to use a venue to hold a "yes" rally aimed at Turks living in Germany. Responding to that, Erdogan on Sunday said that "Germany, you don't have anything to do with democracy. These current practices of yours are no different than the Nazi practices of the past."
Merkel spokesman Steffen Seibert said earlier Monday that the German government "strongly rejected" that, adding that such comparisons downplay the crimes of the Nazis.
Seibert noted that there are strong social, economic and military ties between Germany and Turkey, but acknowledged that there are "far-reaching differences of opinion" between Berlin and Ankara at the moment.
Seibert dismissed any notion that the federal government was involved in the decision to cancel events with Turkish officials, saying it was up to local officials to decide whether they could guarantee the necessary security.
The strife comes at a time when the European Union is relying on a migrant deal with Turkey that has significantly cut down the number of migrants crossing into Europe. However, Erdogan has several times threatened to quit the deal when expressing anger over European countries. Germany also has reconnaissance aircraft deployed at a NATO base in Turkey as part of the alliance's fight against the Islamic State group.
German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel sought to smooth stirred-up emotions on Monday and stressed the need to "normalize" what he calls a "highly strained" relationship with Turkey.
He also pointed out that EU countries have a common interest in not letting NATO partner Turkey "drift further to the east" and that German authorities back freedom of expression and that it's normal for Turkish politicians to want to address their compatriots in Germany, 1.4 million of whom are eligible to vote in the referendum.
Gabriel tried to iron things out with Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu in a phone conversation on Friday, and the two agreed to meet in Germany on Wednesday. But on Monday city officials in Hamburg canceled a Tuesday night rally at which Cavusoglu was to speak, citing fire safety concerns, dpa reported.
Other European nations with significant Turkish immigrant communities have expressed stronger opinions on the issue.
"Our Austrian solution should be clear: we will not accept any campaign appearances by Turkish politicians in Austria," Austrian Foreign Minister Sebastian Kurz said as he arrived at a meeting of European Union counterparts in Brussels.
He added that "we don't want campaigns from other states to be brought to Austria and conflicts from other countries imported ... that is always damaging for integration."
However, Gabriel sounded skeptical about calls from some other European Union ministers to consider EU-wide rules for campaign appearances by foreign politicians, pointing out that every country had its own opinion on the topic.
"I think the main thing is that everyone uses the possibilities they have to ensure that we get back to a somewhat normal relationship," he said.
Luxembourg Foreign Minister Jean Asselborn said that "normally you would have to think that democracy is strong enough to cope with this."
Geir Moulson in Brussels, and Frank Jordans and David Rising in Berlin, contributed to this report.
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