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Turkey's Erdogan to Sweden: No support for NATO membership after Qur'an desecration

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan

Turkey has threatened Sweden with refusing to back its membership bid in the US-led military alliance of NATO in reaction to Stockholm's recent condoning of desecration of the Holy Qur'an in front of the Turkish embassy on the Swedish soil.

"Those who allow such blasphemy in front of our embassy can no longer expect our support for their NATO membership," Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said in a speech after a cabinet meeting on Monday.

The remarks came after Rasmus Paludan, a notorious extremist Danish politician, who also holds Sweden's citizenship, received permission from his country's government to burn the Muslim holy book in front of the Turkish diplomatic mission in Stockholm on Saturday.

Paludan was being protected by the Swedish police while committing the sacrilege, which has opened the floodgates of protest on the part of the world's Muslim countries.

Adding to his remarks, Erdogan blasted Sweden for "loving enemies of Islam," and "members of terrorist organizations," a reference to the anti-Ankara groups, who have been provided with asylum by Sweden.

"If you love members of terrorist organizations and enemies of Islam so much and protect them, then we advise you to seek their support for your country's security," the Turkish head of state said.

Sweden reacted with extreme caution to Erdogan's remarks.

"I cannot comment on the statement tonight. First, I want to understand exactly what was said," Foreign Minister Tobias Billstrom told Sweden's TT news agency.

Erdogan has conditioned Turkey's support for Sweden's accession to NATO on the latter's extradition of those elements, whom Ankara accuses of involvement in either acts of terror against Turkey or a failed coup that targeted the Turkish state in 2016.

In order to appease Turkey, Sweden has been sending its officials on a flurry of visits to Ankara.

The trips have, however, failed to soften Turkey's anger at the act of desecration near its diplomatic mission, with Ankara summoning the Swedish ambassador over the blasphemy and even cancelling a planned visit by the Swedish defense minister to the Turkish capital.

Swedish leaders have condemned Paludan's actions, but defended their country's broad definition of free speech.

"I want to express my sympathy for all Muslims who are offended by what has happened in Stockholm today," Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson tweeted on Saturday.

Jens Stoltenberg, NATO's secretary-general has, himself, defended the blasphemy as "freedom of expression."

Sweden applied to join the military alliance last year alongside its neighbor Finland. In order for the accession to be finalized, however, all of the alliance's 30 members have to lend their blessing.

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