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Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan greets the audience during a conference in Istanbul, Turkey, March 3, 2017. Yasin Bulbul/Presidential Palace/Handout via REUTERS

(reuters_tickers)

By Ralph Boulton and Ece Toksabay

ISTANBUL/ANKARA (Reuters) - Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan accused Germany on Sunday of "fascist actions" reminiscent of Nazi times in a growing row over the cancellation of political rallies aimed at drumming up support for him among the 1.5 million Turks living in Germany.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel's office had no immediate comment on the remarks but the deputy leader of her Christian Democratic Union party said the Turkish president was "reacting like a wilful child that cannot have his way".

German authorities withdrew permission last week for two rallies by Turkish citizens in German cities, at which Turkish ministers were to urge a "Yes" vote in a referendum next month on granting Erdogan sweeping new presidential powers.

The row has dragged relations between the two NATO partners to a new low. At the same time, public outrage is mounting in Germany over Ankara's arrest of a Turkish-German journalist.

"Germany, you have no relation whatsoever to democracy and you should know that your current actions are no different to those of the Nazi period," Erdogan said at a rally in Istanbul. "When we say that, they get disturbed. Why are you disturbed?"

Erdogan says he needs the proposed new powers to tackle Kurdish rebels, Islamist militants and other political enemies in a land with a history of unstable coalition governments. Critics argue a "yes" vote in the April 16 vote would abolish checks and balances already eroded over 15 years of his rule.

Economy Minister Nihat Zeybekci, who had one meeting cancelled last week, said he would speak at rallies with Turkish citizens in the cities of Leverkusen and Cologne on Sunday.

Erdogan's harsh words bring to the foreign political arena the heated climate in Turkey since a failed army attempt to topple the president in July. Mass arrests and dismissals in professions from the military to academia, journalism to science, have been heavily criticised in the West.

"We will talk about Germany's actions in the international arena and we will put them to shame in the eyes of the world," Erdogan said.

"We don't want to see their fascist actions," Erdogan he added. "We thought that era was in the past, but apparently it isn't."

Berlin says the meetings were cancelled by local authorities on security grounds.

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Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim spoke on the phone with Merkel on Saturday, in what he called "a good and productive meeting". The two countries' foreign ministers are due to meet this week.

Erdogan's remarks - he is a man admired by many for his rhetorical flourishes - could win support among many of those who see Turkey threatened by militant attacks and abandoned by putative allies. But they may damage economic ties at a time when Turkey faces rising unemployment and inflation.

Ten percent of Turkish exports go to Germany. Germany accounts for about 11 percent of Turkish imports.

Volker Treier, foreign trade expert with Germany's DIHK Chambers of Commerce, said recently German exports had dropped since mid-2016 and forecast a decline of at least 5 percent in 2017.

The confrontation was fanning anger across the European Union which Turkey, now with little real conviction, aspires to join.

Austrian Chancellor Christian Kern called for an EU-wide ban on campaign appearances by Turkish politicians to avoid member countries like Germany coming under pressure from Ankara.

Dutch nationalist Geert Wilders, expected to make huge gains in a March 15 election, said on Sunday he would declare "the whole cabinet of Turkey persona non grata". He termed Erdogan an "Islamo-fascist".

Julia Kloeckner, deputy leader of Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union, told Bild newspaper: "The Nazi comparison is a new high point of intemperance.”

(Reporting by Ece Toksabay; writing by Ralph Boulton; additional reporting by Andrea Shalal; editing by Mark Trevelyan)

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