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Tense meeting Turkish foreign minister rebuked by Switzerland

Cavusoglu was due to speak at an event in Zurich earlier this month. But it was cancelled for lack of venue

(Keystone)

Swiss Foreign Minister Didier Burkhalter has rebuked his Turkish counterpart Mevlüt Cavusoglu for Turkey's political campaigning on Swiss soil.

This follows a diplomatic spat between the two countries over Ankara's efforts to influence Turkish diaspora voters in Switzerland ahead of a Turkish referendum to reform the country's constitution. 

A press release said that Thursday's talks had been "frank and direct", during which Burkhalter had "underscored the validity of Swiss law on Swiss soil, urged Turkey to comply with it, and said that Switzerland would rigorously investigate illegal intelligence activities."

“Freedom of expression is a universal value recognised by Switzerland, which hopes that this freedom will also hold true for Turkish citizens whether they cast their votes in Switzerland or in their own country,” Burkhalter was quoted. 

Cavusoglu’s visit to Switzerland follows a weeks-long dispute between Ankara and several other European nations over campaigning by Turkish politicians.

Turkey has been caught up in a diplomatic spat with Germany, the Netherlands and Austria over campaign appearances by Turkish officials seeking support for an April 16 referendum that could boost President Tayyip Erdogan's powers.

In Switzerland, Zurich officials earlier this month asked the Swiss government to stop Cavusoglu from speaking at an event to be held there, citing security concerns. Bern refused the request, saying there was no extraordinary threat level that would justify curbs on freedom of speech.

The speech was eventually cancelled for lack of a venue. The Hilton hotel booked for the rally cancelled the event, saying organisers could not ensure the safety of guests and visitors.

On March 10, Aargau cantonal police announced it would not grant permisison for a public event with Turkish politician Hurşit Yildirim of the ruling conservative AKP party for security reasons.

Similar political meetings with Turkish politicians in Germany, Austria and the Netherlands have also recently been cancelled.

Ankara has accused its European allies of using "Nazi methods" by banning Turkish ministers from addressing rallies in Europe over security concerns.

According to Swiss government statistics, around 68,000 Turkish citizens live in Switzerland, a nation of 8.3 million whose population is a quarter foreign. The Turkish embassy's website refers to around 130,000 Turkish citizens in Switzerland.

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