Turkey cancels Swedish minister visit over right-wing protest


Turkey has been angered by Sweden’s green light for a protest in front of its embassy in Stockholm.

Turkey has cancelled a visit by Sweden’s defence minister over a planned demonstration by a right-wing hardline group in Stockholm.

A day after summoning the Swedish ambassador over the issue, Turkey said on Saturday it was cancelling the visit aimed at overcoming Turkey’s objections to its NATO membership.

Turkey has been angered by Sweden’s green light for a protest in front of its embassy in the capital, Stockholm, amid ongoing tensions following Ankara’s objections to Sweden’s bid to join the NATO military alliance.

“At this point, Swedish Defence Minister Pal Jonson’s visit to Turkey on January 27 has lost its significance and meaning, so we cancelled the visit,” Turkish Defence Minister Hulusi Akar said, adding that Sweden has failed to take measures against “disgusting” anti-Turkish protests on their soil.

Sweden’s defence ministry gave Swedish-Danish politician Rasmus Paludan, from the far-right Stram Kurs (Hard Line) party, permission to stage the rally on Saturday, during which he said he intended to “burn the Quran”, Islam’s holy book.

Organisers said about 500 to 600 people were expected to gather to protest against Sweden’s NATO bid and show support for Kurds.

In April last year, Paludan’s announcement of a Quran burning “tour” during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan sparked riots across Sweden.

Turkish presidential spokesman Ibrahim Kalin condemned the planned demonstration as a “clear crime of hatred”.

“Allowing this action despite all our warnings is encouraging hate crimes and Islamophobia,” he tweeted. “The attack on sacred values is not freedom but modern barbarism.”

Swedish Foreign Minister Tobias Billström told TT news agency on Friday that Sweden respects the freedom of speech.

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said he hoped Swedish authorities would not allow the protest to take place.

“This permission is granted to this person, despite all our warnings. I hope Swedish authorities will take necessary measures and will not allow this,” Cavusoglu told reporters, adding that the protest could not classified as freedom of expression.

Billström did not want to speculate on how Paludan’s protest would affect Sweden’s NATO bid, but noted that “everything that prolongs the process unnecessarily is of course something we take very seriously”.

Meanwhile, pro-Turkish and pro-Kurdish groups were also planning demonstrations in the Swedish capital.

Turkey summoned the Swedish ambassador on Friday to condemn the protests, saying rallies by pro-Kurdish groups linked to the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) would be a violation of the joint memorandum signed between Turkey, Sweden and Finland that prevented a Turkish veto for the Nordic countries’ NATO accession in June.

Sweden and neighbouring Finland dropped decades of military non-alignment last year when they applied to join the Western defence alliance in response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Turkey has so far refused to approve their bids, which need sign-off by all member states, and tied its favourable vote to Swedish steps to extradite people it accuses of terrorism or of having played a part in the 2016 coup attempt against President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Turkey argues that Sweden is not doing enough to crack down on Kurdish groups that Ankara views as “terrorists”.

Sweden’s ambassador to Turkey was summoned last week after a video posted by a Kurdish group in Stockholm that depicted Erdogan swinging by his legs from a rope.

A tweet by the group, Rojava Committee of Sweden, compared Erdogan with Italy’s Fascist dictator Benito Mussolini, who was hung upside down after his execution in the closing days of World War II.

Earlier in January, an effigy of the Turkish president was hung from a lamp-post during a protest by Kurds. Turkey denounced a decision by a Swedish prosecutor not to investigate and Swedish Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson called the protest an act of “sabotage” against Sweden’s bid to join NATO.

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