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Turkey says it does not support Sweden’s NATO bid over Quran sacrilege

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan addresses lawmakers of his ruling AK Party during a meeting at the parliament in Ankara, Turkey, February 1, 2023. (Photo by Reuters)

Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan says he has a positive view of Finland’s request to join NATO, but he will not support Sweden’s proposal amid tensions over the sacrilege of the Holy Quran.

Erdogan was addressing the representatives of the Justice and Development Party in parliament on Wednesday.

Sweden and Finland applied to join NATO last year after the start of war in Ukraine, but they have been seeking Ankara's approval ever since.

In order to accept the request, Ankara asked Helsinki and Stockholm to take a tougher position against the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) as a terrorist group.

The three countries reached an agreement in Madrid in June 2022, but Ankara suspended talks last month amid rising tensions following events in Stockholm where a far-right Danish politician insulted the Qur’an.

“Sweden should not bother to try at this point. We will not say 'yes' to their NATO application as long as they allow burning of the Qur’an,” Erdogan said.

Sweden's foreign minister said there could be no compromise over freedom of speech, but Sweden would continue to implement the Madrid agreement.

“It is very clear what is necessary for Sweden to become a member of NATO and that is that we meet the requirements which are present in the trilateral agreement,” he told the national news agency TT.

Erdogan has indicated he intends to agree to Finland joining NATO before Sweden. Finnish Foreign Minister Pekka Haavisto said on Monday his country is sticking to its plan to apply for a joint bid with Sweden.

Of the 30 NATO member states, only Turkey and Hungary have not yet approved the membership of the Nordic countries.

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu, when asked if Turkey had plans for separate processes with Finland and Sweden, said it was NATO and two Nordic countries that would decide on any separate ratification.

“If NATO and the two countries decide for separate membership processes, Turkey will of course reconsider Finland's membership separately and more favorably,” Cavusoglu said at a news conference with his Estonian counterpart in Tallinn.

On Wednesday, Finland reiterated it will move in step with its Nordic neighbor. “Finland continues to advance the membership process together with Sweden,” the joint presidential and government committee on Finnish security and foreign policy said in a statement.

“The fastest possible realization of both countries' memberships is in the best interest of Finland, Sweden and the whole NATO.”

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 late January.

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.

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