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22 Jan, 2023 02:50

Türkiye questions Sweden’s NATO prospects

Ankara accused Stockholm of permitting an “outright hate crime” in breach of a deal to join the bloc
Türkiye questions Sweden’s NATO prospects

Türkiye has accused Sweden of not fulfilling its obligations to clamp down on “terrorist” groups and root out their “propaganda” under an agreement it had signed in order to earn Ankara’s blessing to join NATO. The latest diplomatic row comes after an anti-Islam activist was allowed to burn a copy of the Koran near the Turkish Embassy in Stockholm on Saturday.

“We condemn in the strongest possible terms the vile attack on our holy book,” the Turkish Foreign Ministry said in a statement. “Permitting this anti-Islam act, which targets Muslims and insults our sacred values, under the guise of ‘freedom of expression’ is completely unacceptable.” 

Anti-Islam activist Rasmus Paludan, a Danish-Swedish lawyer who heads up the right-wing ‘Stram Kurs’ (Hard Line) party in Denmark, torched a copy of the holy book at a small rally in Stockholm earlier on Saturday, with permission and under heavy police protection, even as the authorities tried to distance themselves from the provocative stunt.

Swedish Foreign Minister Tobias Billstrom said that his country has a “far-reaching freedom of expression, but it does not imply that the Swedish Government, or myself, support the opinions expressed.”

In a separate statement, the Turkish Foreign Ministry denounced the demonstration as “a flagrant violation of the commitment of Sweden under the Trilateral Memorandum regarding the prevention of the propaganda of terrorist organizations,” emphasizing that “declaring to be bound by the commitments… and delivering on them are two different matters.”

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s top press aide, Fahrettin Altun, added that the “Swedish authorities must wake up to the reality of terror groups’ intent on preventing Sweden’s NATO membership by poisoning their relationship with us.”

In June last year, Sweden and Finland signed a three-way agreement with Türkiye, designed to address Ankara’s concerns over support for “terrorism” and arms sales restrictions. The two Nordic countries pledged to denounce and extradite individuals Ankara accuses of terrorism, namely those said to be linked to the outlawed Kurdish Workers Party (PKK) and other groups. 

Currently, Türkiye and Hungary remain the only two members of the US-led bloc yet to officially approve Sweden’s NATO bid. Before the latest incident, ties between Ankara and Stockholm were already strained after a group of demonstrators had strung up an effigy of Erdogan on a bridge near Stockholm City Hall last week.

The diplomatic row forced Ankara to call off the planned January 27 visit of Swedish Defense Minister Pal Jonson, with his Turkish counterpart, Hulusi Akar, saying that “at this point” the meeting “has become neither important, nor meaningful.”