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Sweden ‘should not expect Turkey’s support over Nato’: Erdoğan after Koran burning

Sweden reacted with caution after Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan warned the country should not expect his backing to join Nato following the burning of the Koran outside Ankara's embassy in Stockholm.

Sweden 'should not expect Turkey's support over Nato': Erdoğan after Koran burning
People set on fire a Sweden flag during a small protest outside the Swedish consulate in Istanbul. Photo: AP Photo/Emrah Gurel

Erdoğan’s furious comments further distanced the prospects of Sweden and Finland joining the Western defence alliance before Turkey’s presidential and parliamentary polls in May.

Turkey and Hungary are the only Nato members not to have ratified the Nordic neighbours’ historic decision to break their tradition of military non-alignment in response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban has promised that his parliament would approve the two bids next month.

But Erdoğan has dug in his heels heading into a close election in which he is trying to energise his nationalist electoral base.

“Sweden should not expect support from us for Nato,” Erdoğan said in his first official response to the act by an anti-Islam politician during a protest on Saturday that was approved by the Swedish police despite Turkey’s objections.

“It is clear that those who caused such a disgrace in front of our country’s embassy can no longer expect any benevolence from us regarding their application for Nato membership,” Erdoğan said.

Sweden reacted with extreme caution to Erdoğan’s remarks.

“I cannot comment on the statement tonight. First, I want to understand exactly what was said,” Foreign Minister Tobias Billstrom told Sweden’s TT news agency.

Cancelled visits

Swedish leaders roundly condemned far-right politician Rasmus Paludan’s actions but defended their country’s broad definition of free speech.

“I want to express my sympathy for all Muslims who are offended by what has happened in Stockholm today,” Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson tweeted on Saturday.

Erdoğan has already set out a series of tough conditions that include a demand for Sweden to extradite dozens of mostly Kurdish suspects that Ankara either accuses of “terrorism” or of involvement in a failed 2016 coup.

Sweden’s courtship of Turkey appeared to be making headway with a flurry of visits by top ministers to Ankara.

Stockholm has also enacted a constitutional amendment that will make it possible to pass tougher anti-terror laws demanded by Ankara.

But things turned sour when a small Kurdish group hung an effigy of Erdoğan outside Stockholm’s city hall earlier this month.

Turkey summoned the Swedish ambassador and revoked an invitation for its parliament speaker to visit Ankara.

The Swedish police decision to approve Paludan’s protests drew a similar response.

Turkey summoned Stockholm’s ambassador for another dressing down and cancelled a planned visit by Sweden’s defence minister.

Erdoğan said the burning of the Muslim holy book was a hate crime that could not be defended by free speech.

“No one has the right to humiliate the saints,” he said in nationally televised remarks.

“When we say something, we say it honestly, and when someone dishonours us, we put them in their place.”

Jens Stoltenberg, the secretary general of Nato, condemned Erdoğan’s position on Sweden.

In an interview with German title Die Welt, he said that “freedom of expression, freedom of opinion is a precious commodity, in Sweden and in all other Nato countries. And that is why these inappropriate acts are not automatically illegal.”

Stoltenberg, who last spring was talking of a fast-track membership process of just a few weeks, added in the interview that the Swedish government had condemned the demonstration “in very clear terms”.

Article by AFP’s Dmitry Zaks

Member comments

  1. If even Jens Turkenberg….ehmmm Stoltenberg condemned Turkey for its attitude, it means that there is no way forward anymore. Most probably either Finalnd will enter alone or both countries will have a bilateral security agreement with the U.S. Turkey will be pressured more when Hungary signs, but it will hide behind its elections. In essence, this should give time to Sweden to think again if it actually wants to join NATO, especially with such NATO allies (Turkey), or if it just needs bilateral agreements with neighbouring countries. You get Norway on your side, it’s almost NATO security assurance.

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MILITARY

Sweden doesn’t rule out sending Leopard tanks to Ukraine

Sweden does not 'exclude' sending Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine, said Defence Minister Pål Jonsson.

Sweden doesn't rule out sending Leopard tanks to Ukraine

His comments come after Germany gave the greenlight for them to be given to Kyiv.

Following weeks of pressure from Ukraine and other allies, Berlin finally agreed to send 14 Leopard 2 tanks, seen as among the best in the world.

The move opened the way for other European nations that operate Leopards to send tanks from their own fleets to Ukraine, further building up the combined-arms arsenal Kyiv needs to launch counter-offensives.

“I don’t exclude the possibility that we can do that in the future, working with other countries,” Jonson told AFP in an interview.

“We could possibly contribute in various ways. It could be related to logistics, maintenance, training, but also tanks as such.”

Sweden, which has broken with its doctrine of not delivering weapons to a country at war, last week pledged a major package of arms for Ukraine, including modern howitzers and armoured vehicles.

“Right now our focus is on delivering that rather substantial contribution,” Jonson said.

EXPLAINED:

On Wednesday he held talks with senior Nato officials in Brussels with Sweden’s bid to join the Western military alliance facing fresh problems from Turkey.

Ankara on Tuesday postponed accession talks with Sweden and Finland, lashing out at Stockholm over protests that included the burning of the Koran.

The decision further diminished the chances of Turkey ratifying their Nato bids before its May presidential and parliamentary elections.

Jonson insisted that it remained a top priority for the Swedish government to become a member of the alliance “as quickly as possible”.

“We’re respectful that this is of course a decision for Turkey and for its parliament,” he said.

Sweden dropped a long-standing policy of non-alignment last year after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine sparked fears that the country was outside Nato’s collective security umbrella.

Jonson said Sweden already felt “considerably more secure” after receiving assurances from powers including the United States, Britain and France.

“Of course, being a full member of Nato will provide us with Article Five and the security guarantees, and that’s important of course as well,” he said.

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