Turkey says Sweden was complicit in burning of Quran amid tension over NATO membership bid
By Jack Guy and Niamh Kennedy, CNN
The Swedish government was complicit in the burning of the Quran at a protest in Stockholm last weekend, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu reportedly said Thursday.
Increased tensions between the two countries come at a time when Sweden is relying on Turkey to support its bid for membership of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) military alliance, of which Turkey is a member, in the light of Russia’s war on Ukraine.
Çavuşoğlu blamed the Swedish government after police in the capital Stockholm authorized the demonstration by right-wing politician Rasmus Paludan, and held it responsible for the burning of the Islamic holy book, according to state news agency Anadolu.
Turkish-Swedish relations suffered a major blow last week after the rally outside the city’s Turkish Embassy last Saturday at which anti-immigration politician Paludan set a copy of the Quran alight.
The incident sparked anger in the Turkish capital, Ankara, where protesters took to the streets and burned the Swedish flag outside the Swedish embassy in response.
Speaking Thursday, Çavuşoğlu said the Swedish government had “taken part in this crime by allowing this vile act” to go ahead, according to Anadolu.
The foreign minister described the incident as a “racist attack” that had nothing to do with freedom of thought, the agency said.
Çavuşoğlu advised Sweden to “demine” its path to NATO membership or risk ruining its chance by “stepping on those mines,” Anadolu reported.
Earlier this week, Ankara called for a February meeting between Turkey, Sweden and Finland to be postponed, according to Turkish state broadcaster TRT Haber, which cited unnamed diplomatic sources.
Finland is also applying to join NATO, along with its Nordic neighbor, after Moscow’s assault on Ukraine sparked renewed security concern across the region.
Anadolu reported Thursday that the meeting around Sweden and Finland’s NATO applications was postponed in light of the current “unhealthy political environment.”
The three countries have met in the past under the “trilateral memorandum” to discuss Sweden and Finland’s NATO membership requests.
Ankara also canceled Swedish Defense Minister Pål Jonson’s planned trip to Turkey in the wake of the incident.
Sweden and Finland applied last year to join NATO following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, but all 30 member states, including Turkey, 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.
™ & © 2023 Cable News Network, Inc., a Warner Bros. Discovery Company. All rights reserved.
CNN’s Mostafa Salem and Hande Atay Alam contributed to this report.