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Demonstrators protest outside the Turkish consulate in Rotterdam, Netherlands, March 11, 2017. REUTERS/Yves Herman

(reuters_tickers)

By Andrea Shalal

BERLIN (Reuters) - The German government is reserving the right to ban Turkish politicians from campaigning in Germany, Chancellor Angela Merkel's chief of staff said in an interview published on Wednesday, adding it would be a last resort.

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan's drive for support among Turks living abroad for the April 16 referendum to expand his powers has caused deep strains between Ankara and Berlin and with other European capitals.

"We will take a close look at what is responsible and what is not. An entry ban would be a last resort. But we reserve the right to do that," Peter Altmaier told the Funke Mediengruppe newspapers.

Erdogan infuriated the German government when he called local German bans on rallies by Turkish ministers "fascist".

But Stephan Mayer, domestic policy spokesman for Merkel's conservatives, told broadcaster DLF:

"We cannot be indifferent if Turkish politicians on German soil are campaigning for a referendum reform that disempowers parliament, abolishes the post of prime minister and gives the president sweeping powers. That's not in our interests."

The small western German state of Saarland on Tuesday banned all such rallies, invoking its right to ban activities that put at risk the peaceful coexistence of Germans and foreigners.

Altmaier said international law allowed all countries, including Germany, to ban the entry of foreign government officials, although this occurred only rarely.

"It's never happened in Germany, as far as I know," he said. "But the fact that Germany has not made full use of its options under international law is no free pass for the future."

Germany's mass-circulation Bild newspaper carried a nearly-full-page photograph of Erdogan on Wednesday, with a headline that read: "You are no democrat! You are damaging your country! You are not wanted here!"

The German government has decided to allow the 1.4 million Turks eligible to vote in the referendum to do so at 13 different locations between March 27-April 9, Sevim Dagdelen, a lawmaker from the Left party, said on Wednesday.

Dagdelen and Cansel Kiziltepe, a Social Democrat, raised questions about a plan to give control over the voting urns to clerics from German mosque association Ditib, which is under investigation for possible spying on behalf of the Turkish.

"We have to be certain that at least on German territory a free and fair vote can take place, and that it cannot be manipulated by clerics who are clearly working for the Turkish government," Dagdelen told Reuters.

Altmaier said Turkey's Nazi comparisons were unacceptable and Germany would not allow Turkey to transfer its internal conflicts here.

German politicians have been highly critical of mass arrests and dismissals in Turkey since a failed military coup last July.

Berlin continues to press for fair treatment of German-Turkish journalist Deniz Yucel, who was arrested in Ankara last month, and rejects as "absolutely baseless" Turkey's claim that Yucel was working as a German spy.

(Additional reporting by Madeline Chambers Editing by Jeremy Gaunt)

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