Turkey says Sweden was complicit in burning the Koran amid tensions over NATO membership
The Swedish The government was complicit in the burning of the Koran at a protest in Stockholm last weekend, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu said on Thursday.
Increased tensions between the two countries come at a time when Sweden is relying on Turkey to support its bid for membership in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) military alliance, of which Turkey is a member, in light of Russia’s war on Ukraine.
Çavuşoğlu blamed the Swedish government after police in the capital Stockholm sanctioned the demonstration by right-wing politician Rasmus Paludan, holding it responsible for the burning of the Islamic holy book, according to state news agency Anadolu.
Turkish-Swedish relations suffered a major blow last week after the rally outside the city’s Turkish embassy on Saturday in which anti-immigration politician Paludan set fire to a copy of the Koran.
The incident sparked anger in the Turkish capital Ankara, where protesters took to the streets and burned the Swedish flag outside the Swedish embassy in response.
On Thursday, Çavuşoğlu said the Swedish government had “participated in this crime by allowing this heinous act” to continue, according to Anadolu.
The foreign minister described the incident as a “racist attack” that had nothing to do with freedom of thought, the agency said.
Çavuşoğlu advised Sweden to “reduce” its path to NATO membership or risk ruining its chance by “stepping on these mines,” Anadolu reported.
Earlier this week, Ankara called for a February meeting between Turkey, Sweden and Finland to be postponed, according to Turkish state broadcaster TRT Haber, citing unnamed diplomatic sources.
Finland is also applying to join NATO, along with its Nordic neighbour, after Moscow’s attack on Ukraine sparked renewed security concerns across the region.
Anadolu reported on Thursday that the meeting regarding Sweden and Finland’s NATO applications was postponed in light of the current “unhealthy political environment”.
The three countries have previously met under the “trilateral memorandum” to discuss Sweden’s and Finland’s applications for membership in NATO.
Ankara also canceled Swedish Defense Minister Pål Jonson’s planned trip to Turkey in the wake of the incident.
Sweden and Finland applied last year to join NATO after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, but all 30 member states, including Turkey, must approve their bid.
Turkey has said that Sweden in particular must first take a clearer stance against what it sees as terrorists, mainly Kurdish militants and a group it blames for an attempted coup in 2016.