TURKEY: President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has warned Sweden that it should not expect Turkey’s support for its application to join NATO, days after the Qur’an was burned outside Ankara’s embassy in Stockholm during a demonstration.
Erdoğan said on Monday, in his first formal response to the far-right politician’s act during a rally over the weekend that was permitted by the Swedish police, “Those who allow such blasphemy in front of our embassy [in Stockholm] can no longer expect our support for their NATO membership.”
Saturday’s protest followed an analogous incident that took place earlier this month in Sweden, where Kurdish protesters put a lamppost with an effigy of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan on it.
Tobias Billstrom, the foreign minister of Sweden, refused to immediately comment on Erdoğan’s statements, saying in a written statement that he wanted to fully comprehend what had been said.
He continued, “But Sweden will respect the agreement that exists between Sweden, Finland, and Turkey regarding our membership in NATO.”
Ulf Kristersson, Sweden’s prime minister, tweeted on Saturday that “freedom of expression is a fundamental part of democracy.” But what is legal is not necessarily appropriate. “Burning books that are holy to many is a deeply disrespectful act.”
However, Erdoğan asserted that the burning of the Muslim holy book constituted a hate crime that could not be justified by the First Amendment.
In remarks broadcast on public television, he said, “No one has the right to humiliate the saints.”
Sweden and Finland applied for NATO membership last year in response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. However, their applications must be approved by all 30 member states.
Ankara has previously stated that Sweden in particular must first adopt a more definite stance against organisations it views as terrorists, primarily Kurdish militants, and an organisation it holds responsible for a failed coup attempt in Turkey in 2016.
The only members of NATO that have not validated Sweden and Finland’s historic decision to break their long-standing military non-alignment tradition are Turkey and Hungary.
Ned Price, a spokesman for the US State Department, said Finland and Sweden are prepared to join the coalition but refused to comment on whether Washington believed Erdoan’s remarks to be a formal rejection of their membership.
Price said, “Ultimately, this is a decision and consensus that Finland and Sweden are going to have to reach with Turkey.”
Price told journalists that burning books that are revered by many people is a highly disrespectful act and that the United States is aware that those responsible for what happened in Sweden may be deliberately attempting to undermine cooperation between the Atlantic and Washington’s European allies.
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg criticised Erdoan’s stance on Sweden.
In an interview with the German publication Die Welt, he stated that “freedom of expression and freedom of opinion are precious commodities, both in Sweden and in all other NATO countries and for that reason, these incorrect behaviours are not automatically unlawful.”
The Qur’an-burning was carried out by the head of the Danish far-right political group Hard Line, Rasmus Paludan.
Before setting fire to a copy of the Qur’an, Paludan, who is also a Swedish citizen, delivered an hour-long lecture against Islam and immigration.
Several Arab nations, notably Saudi Arabia, Jordan, and Kuwait, condemned the incident. Sweden’s ambassador to Turkey had already been summoned, and the Swedish defence minister’s trip to Ankara had been cancelled.