Berlin (AFP) - Germany's foreign minister on Saturday openly accused Turkey's Recep Tayyip Erdogan of ramping up anti-European rhetoric in a bid to score political points back home ahead of a key referendum.
Sigmar Gabriel described Erdogan's comments, including likening Germany's current leaders to Nazis, as "ludicrous" but said Europe should stop responding in a war of words which only plays into the Turkish leader's hands.
"He needs an enemy for his election campaign: Turkey humiliated and the West arrogant," Gabriel said in an interview with the German weekly Der Spiegel.
"What has been said these last few weeks is so ludicrous and absurd that it is difficult to continue to listen to them," Gabriel said.
Erdogan has repeatedly accused Germany and the Netherlands of behaving like "Nazis", comments that have left The Hague and Berlin aghast and prompted warnings from Brussels for the Turkish strongman to show moderation.
EU chiefs blasted his comments as "detached from reality" and incompatible with Turkey's ambitions to join the bloc.
But Gabriel said responding to the comments would only serve Erdogan's interests. "I am of the mind that we do not need to respond to all provocation with a counter-provocation," he said.
The Turkey-EU row has escalated notably after the Netherlands and Germany blocked Turkish ministers from holding rallies in their countries, ahead of the April 16 referendum which opponents fear will create a one-man rule in Turkey.
The German minister defended Saturday the banning of rallies, aimed at winning votes from a Turkish diaspora that numbers as many as 1.4 million in Germany alone.
"He who exceeds the limits should not think that he can spread his political views in our country," said Gabriel.
"Germany, as well as Turkey, deserves respect," he added. "We can criticise Germany and German politics, even harshly, but there are limits set by our laws."
On Friday a Turkish pro-government newspaper depicted Chancellor Angela Merkel in a Nazi uniform with a Hitler-style moustache, labelling the German leader "She Hitler".
"We are not taking part in a game of provocation," German deputy government spokesman Georg Streiter said in response to the newspaper splash.
In a seeming hint of what's to come, Erdogan on Saturday said he expected parliament to approve restoring capital punishment after the referendum, a move that could end Ankara's bid to join the EU.
Turkey completely abolished the death penalty in 2004 as part of its efforts to join the European Union, which makes its removal a non-negotiable pre-condition for membership.