Middle East

Turkey cancels visit by Swedish defense minister after protest permit

Story by Reuters

Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar said on Saturday that a planned visit by his Swedish counterpart to Ankara has been canceled after Swedish authorities granted permission for protests in Stockholm.

The demonstrations planned in Stockholm for later on Saturday were aimed at Turkey and Sweden’s efforts to join NATO, stoking tensions with Ankara whose approval is needed for the Nordic country to join the military alliance.

Organizers said around 500-600 people were expected to gather to protest against Sweden’s NATO bid and show support for Kurds in a demonstration that has received a permit from the Stockholm Police.

Separately, an anti-immigration politician from the far-right fringe, Rasmus Paludan, planned to burn a copy of the Muslim holy book the Quran near the Turkish Embassy. A group of pro-Turkish demonstrators had also received a permit to gather outside the embassy.

“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.

Jonson had planned to travel to Ankara at the invitation of his Turkish counterpart as Stockholm hopes to nudge Turkey to ratify its bid to join NATO.

Jonson said separately he and Akar had met on Friday during a meeting of Western allies in Germany and had decided to postpone the planned meeting.

“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 said on Twitter.

Sweden and Finland applied last year to join NATO following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine but all 30 member states must approve their bids. Turkey has said Sweden in particular must first take a clearer stance against what it sees as terrorists, mainly Kurdish militants and a group it blames for a 2016 coup attempt.

Akar said he had discussed with President Tayyip Erdogan the lack of measures to restrict protests in Sweden against Turkey and had conveyed Ankara’s reaction to Jonson on the sidelines of a meeting of the Ukraine Defence Contact Group.

“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, according to a statement by Turkish defense ministry.

Turkey’s Foreign Ministry had already summoned Sweden’s ambassador on Friday over the planned protests. The ministry said the envoy was told on Friday that the protest by a group sympathetic to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) was considered to be a violation of agreements between the countries.

Finland and Sweden signed a three-way agreement with Turkey in 2022 aimed at overcoming Ankara’s objections to their membership of NATO. Sweden says it has fulfilled its part of the memorandum but Turkey is demanding more, including extradition of 130 people it deems to be terrorists.

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