Saturday Jan 21, 2023
ISTANBUL: Turkey on Saturday called off a visit by Sweden's defence minister over a planned demonstration by right-wing activists in Stockholm.
Turkey has been angered by permission obtained by Rasmus Paludan, a Swedish-Danish politician whose anti-Islam actions sparked riots across Sweden last year, to stage a protest in front of its embassy in the Swedish capital.
A day after summoning the Swedish ambassador over the issue, Ankara said it was cancelling a visit by Sweden's defence chief that was aimed at overcoming Turkey's objections to Sweden's bid to join the NATO military alliance.
"At this point, Swedish Defence Minister Pal Jonson's visit to Turkey on January 27 has lost its significance and meaning, so we cancelled the visit," Turkish Defence Minister Hulusi Akar said.
Jonson also confirmed the decision to postpone the visit, which he said was made together with Akar at the US military base in Ramstein, Germany, on Friday.
"Our relations with Turkey are very important to Sweden, and we look forward to continuing the dialogue on common security and defence issues at a later date," he tweeted.
Paludan has expressed his intention to "burn the [Holy] Quran", during his protest on Saturday.
In April last year, Paludan's announcement of a Holy Quran burning "tour" for the holy month of Ramadan sparked riots across Sweden.
Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu hoped that Swedish authorities would not allow the protest.
"It's a racist action, it's not about freedom of expression," he said.
Turkish presidential spokesman Ibrahim Kalin on Saturday condemned the planned protest, slamming it as a "clear crime of hatred".
"Allowing this action despite all our warnings is encouraging hate crimes and Islamophobia," he tweeted.
"The attack on sacred values is not freedom but modern barbarism."
Turkey had on Friday summoned Sweden's ambassador to "condemn this provocative action which is clearly a hate crime — in strongest terms," a diplomatic source said.
Foreign ministry officials told the ambassador that Sweden's permission for the protest under the pretext of defending democratic values was "unacceptable", the source added.
This is the second time in more than a week that Sweden's ambassador to Turkey was summoned.
Last week, he was called to answer for a video posted by a Kurdish group in Stockholm that depicted President Recep Tayyip Erdogan swinging by his legs from a rope.
A tweet by the group, Rojava Committee of Sweden, compared Erdogan to Italy's Fascist dictator Benito Mussolini, who was hung upside down after his execution in the closing days of World War II.
Sweden, along with neighbouring Finland, needs Turkey's consent to join NATO.
Both countries dropped decades of military non-alignment last year when they applied to join the Western defence alliance in response to Russia's invasion of Ukraine.
Ankara says any progress depends on Swedish steps to extradite people it accuses of terrorism or of having played a part in the 2016 coup attempt against Erdogan.
Turkey argues that Sweden has not done enough to crack down on Kurdish groups that Ankara views as "terrorist."