While it is widely believed that the goal of similar rallies held across Europe is to garner support among fellow Turks in the upcoming referendum on April 20 on expanding President Erdogan's powers, Cuma Icten denied the fact the was campaigning for Erdogan.
"I am here to increase participation among Turks. In Turkey, the participation is 87 percent, as opposed to only 37 percent in Norway. The theme is not Erdogan, be it for or against him," Cuma Icten told Norwegian national broadcaster NRK. However, Icten admitted that he was one of the founding members of the AKP and said that the party members are "very fond of President Erdogan."
Unlike neighboring Sweden, where a Stockholm rally with a senior AKP member spilled over into riots, the Norwegian meeting was held in peace. In Sweden, Culture and Democracy Minister Alice Bah Kuhnke defended the choice to allow AKP International Secretary Mehmet Mehdi Eker's campaigning citing freedom of speech. Despite the fact that Eker was not formally invited, Sweden did nothing to prevent his election tour, which many, including Sweden's Kurdish diaspora, regarded as controversial.
Stockholm'da yaşayan kardeşlerimize ilgi ve alakalarından dolayı teşekkür ederim. pic.twitter.com/wbRAUDFEvU— Mehmet Mehdi Eker (@DrMehdiEker) March 12, 2017
In Norway, Jon Helgheim of the Progress Party stated it was perfectly okay to hold meetings like that in Drammen, but expressed hope that the Turkish diaspora would stand its ground against AKP's campaigning, which is expected to feature a rally in Oslo.
"Personally, I value the freedom of expression very highly. In principle, I believe that we must accept the fact that foreign politicians run different errands in Norway, including campaigning," Jon Helgheim told NRK, admitting that he was worried about AKP's policy and expressing hope that Drammen's Turkish community can stand up and reject Erdogan's ways.
"We have a high threshold in Norway for refusing people to come here," Børge Brende said, as quoted by Norwegian newspaper Romsdals Budstikke.
Campaigns in Sweden and Norway are part of AKP's attempt to garner support from fellow Turks abroad for the upcoming referendum. Sweden, a nation of 10 million, has a significant Turkish diaspora of 75,000 people, of which 45,000 were born in Turkey. Norway, a nation of 5.2 million, boasts a Turkish community of over 17,000 people, the majority of whom live in the Oslo region, including Drammen.
Sweden and Norway stood out against fellow European nations, which refused Turkish politicians' pro-Erdogan campaigns and ended in a bitter spate with Ankara. President Erdogan himself compared the Dutch and the Germans, who closed their doors to his emissaries, with fascists and Nazis. Austria and Switzerland also canceled similar campaign meetings, whereas Danish Prime Minister Lars Løkke Rasmussen urged his Turkish counterpart Binali Yildirim to call-off his upcoming visit to Denmark.
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