Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Saturday strongly criticized Austria’s move to close mosques and expel Turkish-funded imams, slamming the decision as anti-Islamic and promising a response.
“These measures taken by the Austrian prime minister are, I fear, leading the world toward a war between the cross and the crescent,” Erdogan said in a speech in Istanbul.
The crescent is a symbol associated with Islam.
His comments came the day after the Austrian government announced it could expel up to 60 Turkish-funded imams and their families and would shut down seven mosques as part of a crackdown on “political Islam,” triggering fury in Ankara.
Interior Minister Herbert Kickl of the far-right Freedom Party (FPOe), the junior partner in Austria’s coalition government said the move concerned imams with alleged links to the Turkish-Islamic Cultural Associations (ATIB) organisation, a branch of Turkey’s religious affairs agency Diyanet.
Around 360,000 people of Turkish origin live in Austria, including 117,000 Turkish nationals.
Relations between Ankara and Vienna have been strained since a failed coup against Erdogan in 2016 which was followed by a wave of arrests.
Erdogan’s speech comes in the run-up to presidential and legislative elections on June 24 in which he faces stiff opposition.
The Austrian government has banned Turkish officials from holding meetings in the country ahead of the polls.