- Mattia Bubalo
- BBC News
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said on Monday that Sweden should not expect Turkey to support its bid to join NATO, days after it burned a copy of the Koran during a protest in Stockholm.
Sweden applied to join NATO after Russia invaded Ukraine, but it needs the approval of Turkey, which is a member of the alliance, for its application to be accepted.
Earlier this month, Kurdish demonstrators in Sweden hung a doll resembling the Turkish president in a lamppost during an anti-Turkish demonstration.
While the Danish-Swedish politician, Rasmus Paludan, who is from the far right, burned a copy of the Koran in front of the Turkish embassy in Stockholm on Saturday.
In response, Erdogan said, “Sweden should not expect support from us for joining NATO.”
He added, “It is clear that those who caused such a disgraceful act in front of our country’s embassy, can no longer expect any benevolence from us with regard to their request.”
The Waludan protest on Saturday, but not the burning of the Koran itself, received prior approval from the Swedish authorities.
Erdogan condemned the protest, saying blasphemy should not be defended as freedom of expression.
The Swedish government also criticized Paludan’s protest.
“Sweden has an advanced level of freedom of expression, but that does not mean that the Swedish government, or I, endorse the views that are expressed,” Swedish Foreign Minister Tobias Billström said on Saturday.
Responding to Erdogan’s remarks on Monday, Billstrom said he wanted to understand exactly what the Turkish leader said before commenting.
He added, “Sweden will respect the existing agreement between Sweden, Finland and Turkey regarding our membership in NATO.”
Sweden and Finland both applied to join NATO after Russia invaded Ukraine, but recent protests have escalated tensions.
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said that freedom of expression is a “valuable commodity” in NATO countries and that such actions, while inappropriate, are not “spontaneously illegal”.
Turkey condemned the Swedish government’s decision to allow the protest, describing it as “totally unacceptable”.
“No one has the right to humiliate the saints,” Erdogan said in his televised remarks.
He added, “When we say something, we say it sincerely, and when someone insults us, we put it in their place.”
Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar said Turkey had canceled a scheduled visit by his Swedish counterpart Pal Johnson after “seeing that no action was taken on the … disgusting protests”.
The previous series of visits by Swedish senior ministers to the Turkish capital, Ankara, had pinned hopes that this would lead to easing Turkey’s objection to Sweden’s accession to the alliance.
Since Turkey is a member of NATO, it can prevent another country from joining it. Turkey made several demands to Sweden, in exchange for its support for its accession file, including the handover of some Kurds, which Turkey describes as “terrorists”.
Earlier this month, the Swedish prime minister said that Kurdish protesters in Stockholm who had hung an effigy of Turkey’s president from a lamppost were trying to sabotage Sweden’s bid to join NATO.
A Swedish minister described what happened as “unfortunate”, but Turkey said the condemnation was not enough.
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