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EghtesadOnline: A senior aide to Chancellor Angela Merkel hit back at Turkey’s government, saying Germany doesn’t need lessons in democracy after President Recep Tayyip Erdogan likened the cancellation of rallies by two of his cabinet ministers to Nazi practices.

Peter Altmaier, Merkel’s chief of staff, called the comment “absolutely unacceptable” as tension escalates in a relationship already strained over Turkey’s human rights record after a failed coup to topple Erdogan in July. Volker Kauder, Merkel’s top lieutenant in the German parliament, linked the surge in tension to Erdogan’s campaign to expand his powers in a referendum planned in April.

“Nobody can outdo Germany in terms of rule of law, tolerance and liberalism,” Altmaier said in an interview with broadcaster ARD on Monday. “There’s no reason whatsoever for us to accept such accusations or advice from anybody.”

According to Bloomberg, Erdogan lashed out in Istanbul on Sunday after local authorities in two municipalities canceled campaign events by his ministers in the buildup to the referendum. In comments widely reported in Germany, Erdogan said the decisions have “nothing to do with democracy” and that “recent practices” in Germany “are no different from the Nazi ones of the past.” An estimated 1.4 million Turkish voters live in Germany.

The flareup risks further straining Turkey’s relations with the entire European Union as EU foreign ministers meet in Brussels on Monday. The Ankara government has jailed a German-Turkish reporter whom Erdogan described as a spy, and is pressing Germany to extradite fugitive Turkish military officers involved in the coup attempt.

German Town

The town of Gaggenau in southwestern Germany triggered the turmoil last week by revoking its permission for Turkish Justice Minister Bekir Bozdag to hold a campaign rally, citing concerns of overcrowding. In Cologne, authorities canceled Economy Minister Nihat Zeybekci’s planned address on Sunday to a Turkish community, citing security concerns.

Merkel last week condemned the jailing of German-Turkish journalist Deniz Yucel, 43, as “bitter and disappointing,” saying the charges of terrorist propaganda threatened press freedom in Turkey. Kauder also condemned Erdogan’s comparison with the Nazi era.

“It’s an incredible and unacceptable turn of events that a leader of a NATO country talks this way about another NATO country, especially one who has considerable problems with the rule of law,” the head of Merkel’s Christian Democrat-led caucus told ARD on Sunday.

Refugee Accord

For all the criticism by German leaders, Turkey and the EU have shared interests beyond trade.

Erdogan and the EU last March forged a deal to stem the flow of refugees entering Greece via the Aegean, with Turkey agreeing to take back people turned away. The uneasy accord that helped ease the trade bloc’s refugee crisis is unlikely to be upended by Erdogan amid new tensions with Germany, according to its Austrian partner.

The EU is a critical trade partner for Turkey, taking 47 percent of its exports in January. Germany was the No. 1 export destination for Turkish goods, accounting for 10 percent, according to Turkey’s statistics agency.

Angela merkel Recep Tayyip Erdogan Germany-Turkey relationship Peter Altmaier