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Turkey calls off Swedish minister’s visit over planned ‘Qur'an burning’ event in Stockholm

Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar

Turkey has called off a visit by Sweden’s defense minister against the backdrop of a planned ‘Qur'an burning’ event in Stockholm by a right-wing extremist whose anti-Islam conduct sparked riots in the European country last year.

Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar said on Saturday, “At this point, Swedish Defense Minister Pal Jonson's visit to Turkey on January 27 has lost its significance and meaning, so we cancelled the visit.”

The visit was aimed at addressing Turkey's objection to Sweden's bid to join NATO.

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 defense issues at a later date," he tweeted.

Sweden’s Defense Ministry gave Swedish-Danish politician Rasmus Paludan, from the far-right ‘Stram Kurs’ (Hard Line) party, permission to hold the event on Saturday, during which he said he intended to “burn the Quran,” Islam’s holy book.

According to organizers, about 500 to 600 people were expected to gather to protest against Sweden’s NATO bid and show support for Kurds.

‘Crime of hatred’

Turkish presidential spokesman Ibrahim Kalin said the planned event was a “clear crime of hatred.”

“Allowing this action despite all our warnings is encouraging hate crimes and Islamophobia,” he tweeted. 

On Friday, Swedish Foreign Minister Tobias Billstrom told TT news agency Sweden respects freedom of speech. But Kalin said the “attack on sacred values is not freedom but modern barbarism.”

Paludan sparked riots across Sweden in April 2022, when he made an announcement of a Quran burning “tour” during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.

Regarding the Saturday event, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said he hoped Swedish authorities would not give the go-ahead. “This permission is granted to this person, despite all our warnings. I hope Swedish authorities will take necessary measures and will not allow this,” Cavusoglu told reporters. He also said the event could not amount to freedom of expression.

Billstrom did not want to speculate on how Paludan’s protest would affect Sweden’s NATO bid, but said “everything that prolongs the process unnecessarily is of course something we take very seriously.”

Ankara summoned the Swedish ambassador on Friday to “condemn this provocative action which is clearly a hate crime -- in strongest terms.” Foreign ministry officials told the ambassador that Sweden's permission for the provocative event in the pretext of defending democratic values was "unacceptable."

Sweden, along with neighboring Finland, needs Turkey's consent to join NATO. Both countries applied to join the US-led military alliance last year.

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 President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Turkey argues Sweden – and to a lesser extent Finland – has not done enough to crack down on the Kurdistan Workers' Party, or the PKK, and other entities Turkey views as "terrorist" and security threats.

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