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Turkey's Erdogan again rebukes Sweden over NATO bid

February 1, 2023

The Turkish president said a recent Quran burning in Sweden means it should not join the alliance. At the same time, Erdogan said he is still positive on Finland's bid to join the defense pact.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan speaks to members of his conservative AKP party in Ankara
Erdogan is playing up his scorn at the West ahead of key Turkish presidential elections in MayImage: Mehmet Kaman/AA/picture alliance

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Wednesday again shot down Sweden's bid to join NATO, after the Quran was recently burned in the Swedish capital of Stockholm.

"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 told lawmakers in his conservative AKP party.     

The burning of the Quran last month in Stockholm by a far-right activist has stirred outrage in Muslim-majority Turkey, with recent protests taking place in front of Swedish diplomatic missions in Istanbul and Ankara. Muslims consider the desecration of the Quran to be a form of blasphemy. 

Protests in front of the Consulate General of Sweden in Istanbul, after a Quran burning in Stockholm
Turks have expressed their anger about the Quran burning in front of Swedish diplomatic offices in Istanbul and AnkaraImage: Hakan Akgun/Demiroren Visual Media/ABACA/picture alliance

Both Sweden and Finland submitted a joint application last year to NATO amid security concerns due to Russia's war on Ukraine.

Under current rules, all 30 members of the NATO alliance must agree unanimously in order for a new country to join. Another NATO country, Hungary, has also expressed skepticism towards Sweden's application following the Quran burning.  

Sweden: Religion does not play role in NATO deal with Turkey  

The Swedish government has condemned protests where anti-Muslim activities took place, but has also said the demonstrations fall under freedom of speech protections. Swedish Foreign Minister Tobias Billstrom said "religion is not part of the agreement" it signed last year with Turkey regarding NATO membership.

The protesters in Sweden have also criticized Turkey's actions towards its Kurdish minority — demonstrators last month hanged an effigy of Erdogan. Turkey was outraged by this act, with the Turkish government accusing the protesters of being linked to the Kurdish PKK group.

The PKK are not only considered to be a terrorist organization by Turkey, but also the US and EU.    

NATO chief: Turkey should allow in Sweden, Finland

Ankara more 'positive' on Finland's application  

Although Erdogan has expressed disapproval of Sweden's bid, the Turkish leader said "our position on Finland is positive."

An official statement from Finland on Wednesday said the country remains adamant that it will join NATO with Sweden at the same time.  

Finnish Foreign Minister Pekka Haavisto had suggested last month in an interview that Finland could join the defense pact without its Nordic neighbor. 

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said earlier Wednesday that if Finland does indeed decide to go it alone on the NATO application, Turkey "will then of course reconsider Finland's membership separately and more favorably." 

wd/nm (Reuters, AP)