Turkey’s president says no support for Sweden’s NATO bid

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ISTANBUL — Turkey’s president said Monday Sweden shouldn’t expect support for its NATO membership bid following weekend protests in Stockholm by an anti-Islam activist and pro-Kurdish groups.

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan slammed Rasmus Paludan’s Quran-burning protest on Saturday, saying it was an insult to everyone, especially to Muslims. He was particularly incensed at Swedish authorities for allowing the demonstration to take place outside the Turkish Embassy in Stockholm, which he called an attack on 85 million Turkish citizens.

“It is clear that those who allowed such vileness to take place in front of our embassy can no longer expect any charity from us regarding their NATO membership application,” Erdogan said in his first comments regarding the weekend protests, saying Sweden must have calculated the consequences of permitting Paludan’s demonstration.

Erdogan also criticized Sweden for pro-Kurdish protests where demonstrators waved flags of various Kurdish groups, including the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, which has waged a decades-long insurgency against Turkey. The PKK is considered a terrorist group in Turkey, the European Union and the United States, but its symbols aren’t banned in Sweden.

“So you will let terror organizations run wild on your avenues and streets and then expect our support for getting into NATO. That’s not happening,” Erdogan said, referring to Sweden and Finland’s accession bids for the military alliance. He said if Sweden won’t show respect to Turkey or Muslims, then “they won’t see any support from us on the NATO issue.”

Turkey has been holding up the Nordic nations’ historic NATO bids, saying they must first address Turkey’s security concerns.

Swedish officials have stressed that freedom of expression is guaranteed by the Swedish Constitution and gives people extensive rights to express their views publicly, though incitement to violence or hate speech isn’t allowed. Demonstrators must apply to police for a permit for a public gathering. Police can deny such permits only on exceptional grounds, such as risks to public safety. Top Swedish officials have said freedom of expression is crucial to democracy while criticizing Paludan’s actions as disrespectful and ones they disagree with.

Anti-Islam activist Paludan, who holds both Danish and Swedish citizenship, established far-right parties in both countries that have failed to win any seats in national, regional or municipal elections. In last year’s parliamentary election in Sweden, his party received just 156 votes nationwide. His Quran-burning sparked counter-protests in Turkey over the weekend, where demonstrators burned his photograph and a Swedish flag.

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