Times-Herald (Vallejo)

Erdogan: Sweden can't join NATO if it burns Qurans

- By Suzan Fraser and Jari Tanner

ANKARA, TURKEY >> Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan reaffirmed Wednesday that Turkey won't allow Sweden to join the NATO military alliance as long as the Scandinavi­an country permits protests desecratin­g Islam's holy book to take place.

Turkey, which had already been holding off approving Sweden and Finland's membership in the Western military alliance, has been infuriated by a series of separate demonstrat­ions in Stockholm. In one case a solitary antiIslam activist burned the Quran outside the Turkish Embassy, while in an unconnecte­d protest an effigy of Erdogan was hanged. Even before that, Ankara had been pressing Sweden and Finland to crack down on exiled members of Kurdish and other groups it sees as terrorists, and to allow arms sales to Turkey.

Turkey has indefinite­ly postponed a key meeting in Brussels that would have discussed the two Nordic countries' NATO entry.

“Sweden, don't even bother! As long as you allow my holy book, the Quran, to be burned and torn, and you do so together with your security forces, we will not say `yes' to your entry into NATO,” Erdogan said in a speech to his ruling party's legislator­s.

Swedish government officials have distanced themselves from the protests, including by a farright anti-Islam activist who burned copies of the Quran in Stockholm and Copenhagen, Denmark, while also stressing that the demonstrat­ions are protected by freedom of speech.

On Tuesday, Swedish Prime Minister Ulf Kristersso­n denounced the activists who carried out the demonstrat­ions as “useful idiots” for foreign powers who want to inflict harm on the Scandinavi­an country as it seeks to join NATO.

“We have seen how foreign actors, even state actors, have used these manifestat­ions to inflame the situation in a way that is directly harmful to Swedish security,” Kristersso­n told reporters in Stockholm, without naming any countries.

Sweden and neighborin­g Finland abandoned decades of nonalignme­nt and applied to join NATO in the wake of Russia's invasion of Ukraine. All NATO members except Turkey and Hungary have ratified their accession, but unanimity is required.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from United States