Turkey cancels visit by Swedish minister as planned protests stoke tension

ISTANBUL/STOCKHOLM, Jan 21 (Reuters) – Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar said on Saturday that a planned visit to his Swedish counterpart Ankara next week has been canceled after Swedish authorities granted permission for protests in Stockholm.

Planned demonstrations in Stockholm later Saturday targeted Turkey and Sweden’s bid to join NATO, sparking tensions with Ankara over the Nordic country’s bid 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 the Kurds in a demonstration sanctioned by Stockholm police.

Separately, a far-right anti-immigration politician, Rasmus Paludan, planned to burn a copy of the Koran, the Muslim holy book, near the Turkish embassy. A group of pro-Turkish demonstrators also received permission to gather outside the embassy.

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At this time, Swedish Defense Minister Paul Johnson’s visit to Turkey on January 27 has become pointless…that’s why we canceled that visit, Akar said.

Johnson plans to travel to Ankara at the invitation of his Turkish counterpart, as Stockholm hopes to encourage Turkey to accept Turkey’s accession to NATO.

Johnson said he and Acker met separately on Friday at a meeting of Western allies in Germany and decided to postpone the planned meeting.

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

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Sweden and Finland applied to join NATO last year after Russia invaded Ukraine, but all 30 member states must approve their bids. Turkey says Sweden must first take a clear stance, particularly on Kurdish militants and what it sees as extremists it blames for the 2016 coup attempt.

Akar said he discussed the lack of measures to control protests in Sweden against Turkey with President Tayyip Erdogan and informed Johnson of Ankara’s response during a meeting of Ukraine’s Defense Contact Group.

“It is unacceptable not to act or react to these (protests). Necessary things need to be done, measures must be taken,” Akar said, according to a Turkish defense ministry statement.

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Turkey’s foreign ministry has already summoned Sweden’s ambassador on Friday over the planned protests. The ministry said it told the ambassador on Friday that a protest by a group of sympathizers of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) was considered 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 NATO membership. Sweden says it has fulfilled its part of the memorandum, but Turkey is demanding more, including the extradition of 130 suspected terrorists.

Reporting by Omer Berberoglu in Istanbul and Niklas Pollard in Stockholm Writing by Ezgi Erkoyun Editing by Toby Chopra and Frances Kerry

Our criteria: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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