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Turkey threatens to cancel refugee deal in row with EU

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan speaks during a ceremony in Sakarya, Turkey, March 16, 2017. (Photo by Reuters)

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has threatened to end a contentious agreement with the EU, aimed at halting the refugee influx into the continent as tensions between the two sides continue to escalate.

Speaking in a televised address on Thursday, Erdogan said the EU could "forget about" the deal, which was sealed in March 2016 to stem the flow of refugees to Europe in return for financial and political rewards for Ankara.

Erdogan further accused the European Union of not sticking to a promise to grant Turkish nationals the right to travel visa-free in Europe.

He also censured a recent ruling by the EU's top court in favor of curbs on wearing headscarves, accusing the body of having launched a "crusade" against Islam.

“The European Union's court, the European Court of Justice (ECJ), my esteemed brothers, have started a crusade struggle against the (Muslim) crescent," he said.

On Tuesday, the ECJ said it is okay if a firm has an internal rule banning the wearing of "any political, philosophical or religious sign" such as headscarves.

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“Where is freedom of religion?" Erdogan asked. "Shame on your European Union acquis. Shame on your values. Shame on your law and justice!"

Erdogan said, "Europe is swiftly rolling back to the days before World War II." 

EU expects Turkey to comply with refugee accord

Meanwhile, the European Commission (EC), the EU's politically independent executive arm, said on Thursday that the bloc expects Turkey to honor the refugee deal.

"We remain committed to the implementation of the EU-Turkey statement.... This is an engagement of mutual trust and delivery and we expect that both sides will comply with their commitments," EC spokesman, Margaritis Schinas, said.

Dutch liberals, fascists not different: Cavusoglu

In a related development, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said there was "no difference" between the ruling Dutch liberals and the "fascist" politician Geert Wilders, adding “they have the same mentality."

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu addresses supporters during a political rally on Turkey's upcoming referendum, in Metz, France, March 12, 2017. (Photo by Reuters)

Cavusoglu made the remarks, cited by the state-run Anadolu news agency, a day after general elections were held in the Netherlands.

With 99 percent of votes counted, Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte’s VVD Liberal party has won 33 of parliament's 150 seats while far-right Wilders of the PVV Party is second with 20 seats.

"Where are you going, where are you taking Europe?" Cavusoglu asked, addressing European leaders.

"You have begun to disintegrate Europe and take Europe to the cliff. Soon religious wars will begin in Europe," he warned.

Dutch PM Mark Rutte (R) talks with Dutch far-right politician Geert Wilders after the general election in The Hague, Netherlands, March 16, 2017. (Photo by Reuters)

The top Turkish diplomat further questioned Amsterdam's understanding of "humanity, democracy and freedom," saying Turkey would not remain passive against the recent Dutch moves.

Turkey’s dispute with the EU erupted earlier this month after Germany and the Netherlands blocked Turkish ministers from holding rallies to secure a 'Yes' vote in next month's referendum on expanding Erdogan's powers.

The Turkish president has accused the European countries of acting like "Nazis.”

Hollande, Merkel rap Erdogan’s Nazi jibe

French President Francois Hollande and German Chancellor Angela Merkel spoke on the phone on Thursday and condemned Erdogan’s Nazi jibe.

In a joint statement released by the French president's office, the two officials said they "consider comparisons with Nazism and aggressive statements against Germany and other member states unacceptable.”

Bulgaria-Turkey ties sour 

In another development on Thursday, Bulgaria recalled its ambassador to Turkey for consultations but the Bulgarian Foreign Ministry did not provide any further details about the move.

The move came after Sofia summoned Turkey's envoy last week after he supported Bulgaria’s pro-Turkish Dost party, which is running in the snap parliamentary election on March 26.

The eastern European country further accused Ankara of "direct interference in Bulgarian domestic affairs" by encouraging some 60,000 Bulgarian citizens living in Turkey to vote for Dost party.

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