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NATO

United States: ‘Vile’ burning of Koran could sabotage Sweden’s Nato membership

The United States defended Sweden for upholding freedom of association, but slammed a far-right extremist's 'repugnant' burning of the Koran, saying it threatened to derail the Nordic country's Nato membership application.

United States: 'Vile' burning of Koran could sabotage Sweden's Nato membership
United States State Department spokesman Ned Price. File photo: AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta

Swedish-Danish far-right activist Rasmus Paludan on Saturday torched the Islamic holy book in front of Ankara’s embassy in Stockholm just as Turkey holds up Sweden’s application to enter the transatlantic alliance.

“Burning books that are holy to many is a deeply disrespectful act,” United Staes State Department spokesman Ned Price told reporters on Monday.

“It’s repugnant,” he said, also calling the incident “disgusting” and “vile”.

Price said the burning was the work of “a provocateur” who “may have deliberately sought to put distance between two close partners of ours – Turkey and Sweden”.

He “may have deliberately sought to have an impact on the ongoing discussion regarding the accession of Sweden and Finland to Nato”, Price said.

Price defended the stance of Sweden, saying that it upholds “freedom of association” and that an act “can be lawful and awful at the same time”.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, who has Islamist political roots, voiced fury over the incident including Swedish police’s permission for the rally to take place.

Erdoğan said that Sweden should not expect support on joining Nato, after he earlier demanded that Stockholm take action on Kurdish militants which Turkey considers terrorists.

Swedish leaders roundly condemned 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.

Sweden and Finland last year applied to enter the Western alliance, shedding earlier reluctance to annoy Russia after their giant neighbour invaded Ukraine, which had unsuccessfully sought to enter Nato.

Under the rules of the alliance, all members must approve new members. Only Turkey and Hungary have not given their green light, with Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban promising that parliament will do so next month.

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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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