Turkey cancels Swedish minister’s visit as planned protests stoke tension

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

Protests planned in Stockholm later on Saturday were aimed at Turkey’s 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 to 600 people were expected to gather to protest Sweden’s NATO bid and show support for the Kurds in a demonstration that received a permit from 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 Koran near the Turkish embassy. A group of pro-Turkish demonstrators had also received a permit to gather in front of the embassy.

“At this point, Swedish Defense Minister Pal Jonson’s visit to Turkey on January 27 no longer makes sense. We have therefore canceled the visit,” Akar said.

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

Jonson said separately that he and Akar met on Friday at a meeting of Western allies in Germany and decided to postpone the scheduled meeting.

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

Sweden and Finland applied last year to join NATO after Russia invaded Ukraine, but all 30 member states must approve their application. 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 accuses of attempting a coup in 2016 .

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

“It is unacceptable not to move or react to these (protests). The necessary things had to be done, measures should have been taken,” Akar said, according to a statement from the Turkish Defense Ministry.

The Turkish Foreign Ministry had already summoned the Swedish ambassador on Friday over the planned protests. The ministry said the envoy was informed on Friday that the protest by a group sympathizing with the banned Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) was seen as a violation of agreements between the countries.

Finland and Sweden signed a tripartite agreement with Turkey in 2022 aimed at overcoming Ankara’s objections to joining NATO. Sweden says it has fulfilled its part of the memorandum but Turkey is asking for more, including the extradition of 130 people it considers terrorists.

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

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