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31 Jan, 2023 20:15

NATO member condemns Sweden’s response to Koran burning

Hungary’s top diplomat has argued that Stockholm should “act differently” if it wants to join the US-led military bloc
NATO member condemns Sweden’s response to Koran burning

Sweden’s response to a Koran-burning demonstration that angered Türkiye was "just plain stupidity" and jeopardized a key approval needed for the Nordic country's bid to join NATO, Hungarian Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto has claimed. The top diplomat made his comments to reporters at a press briefing on Tuesday in Budapest, where he hosted his Turkish counterpart, Mevlut Cavusoglu.

The incident in question was a Koran-burning stunt at a January 21 political rally in Stockholm. Swedish authorities permitted the event and provided police protection, citing the country’s protections for “far-reaching freedom of expression.”

“As a Christian and as a Catholic, I must say that burning of a holy book of another religion is an unacceptable act,” Szijjarto said. He added, “Stating that the burning of a sacred book is part of freedom of speech is just plain stupidity.”

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan announced last week that he had ruled out approving Sweden’s application to join the US-led military bloc.

“If you are that respectful to rights and freedoms, you will respect the faith of the Republic of Türkiye or the Muslims in the first place. If you do not show this respect, then, no offense, but you will not receive any support from us with regard to NATO,” he stressed. 

Sweden and Finland launched bids last year to join the Western military bloc, citing security concerns raised by the Russia-Ukraine conflict. Approval from all 30 members of NATO is required to expand the group. Erdogan, who previously demanded that Sweden and Finland stop supporting Kurdish groups that Turkish officials consider to be terrorists, said the Koran-burning incident violated an agreement signed last June to address Ankara’s security concerns.

Hungary is the only other NATO member that hasn’t yet officially approved the Nordic countries’ applications. Budapest had been expected to vote on the alliance’s proposed expansion by the end of last month. Szijjarto said the issue will be taken up by Hungary’s parliament at its first 2023 session, in February.

As for Türkiye’s decision, Szijjarto said Hungary won’t attempt to influence the outcome. “I never urge any other foreign governments to do things which are not of our concern,” he said, adding that “perhaps they [Sweden] should act differently than that” if they want to secure Ankara’s backing.

Addressing Finland’s and Sweden’s NATO bids, Russia has said the expansion of the bloc would not make the European continent more stable or secure.