Turkey cancels Swedish minister’s visit over protest permit

Turkey said the move was in response to Sweden’s decision to allow a far-right protest near the Turkish Embassy in Stockholm. Sweden needs Turkey’s approval to join the NATO military alliance.

Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar on Saturday announced that a planned visit by Swedish Defense Minister Pal Jonson to Turkey had been canceled. 

The visit, aimed at overcoming Turkey’s objections to Sweden’s bid to join the NATO military alliance, had been scheduled for next week.

“At this point, the visit of Swedish Defense Minister Pal Jonson to Turkey on January 27 has become meaningless. So we canceled the visit,” Akar said.

Later on Saturday, Jonson tweeted that he and Akar had agreed to postpone the visit on Friday during a summit at the Ramstein air base in Germany.

“Yesterday I met with my Turkish counterpart Hulusi Akar at the US military base in Ramstein, Germany. We decided then to postpone the planned meeting in Ankara until later,” Jonson said.

“Our relations with Türkiye are very important to Sweden, and we look forward to continuing the dialogue on common security and defense issues at a later date,” he added.

Why was the visit canceled?

Akar cited a far-right protest in Stockholm —  at which a copy of the Quran, the Muslim holy book, was burned — as the reason for the cancelation. 

Swedish authorities granted Rasmus Paludan, a Swedish-Danish politician whose anti-Islamist actions sparked riots across Sweden last year, permission to stage the protest near the Turkish Embassy in Stockholm.

“It is unacceptable not to make a move or react to these [protests]. The necessary things needed to be done, measures should have been taken,” Akar said.

Swedish Foreign Minister Tobias Billstrom called Islamophobic provocations appalling.

“Sweden has a far-reaching freedom of expression, but it does not imply that the Swedish Government, or myself, support the opinions expressed,” Billstrom said on Twitter.

Ahead of the protest on Saturday, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu urged Swedish authorities to revoke permission for it.

“This permission is granted to this person, despite all our warnings. This vile act will take place at around 1600 Turkish time (1300 GMT), I hope Swedish authorities will take necessary measures until then and will not allow this,” Cavusoglu said.

Turkish presidential spokesman Ibrahim Kalin also condemned the protest, calling it a “clear crime of hatred.”

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

On Friday, Turkey summoned Sweden’s ambassador over Swedish authorities’ permission for the protest.

Meanwhile, pro-Kurdish and pro-Turkish groups in Sweden were planning demonstrations in Stockholm over the weekend.

Ankara had summoned the ambassador at the start of a month over a video circulated on social media showing an effigy of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan swinging from a rope at a Kurdish protest in Sweden’s capital.

Turkey holds off on approval of NATO bid

Ending decades of military non-alignment, Sweden is seeking to join the NATO alliance in light of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Accession is only possible with the approval of all the alliance’s current members, including Turkey.

Turkey has demanded that Sweden and neighboring Finland crack down on Kurdish militants in exchange for support for the countries’ membership bid. Helsinki and Stockholm have since signed a memorandum with Ankara to secure its support for the two Nordic countries’ accession to NATO.

Turkey says progress depends on Swedish steps to extradite people it accuses of “terrorism” or of having ties to a 2016 coup attempt.

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