Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan told Sweden Wednesday to "don’t even bother" with trying to join NATO as long as the European country allows protests desecrating Islam’s holy book.
Erdogan made the remark in a speech to his ruling party’s legislators as Turkey remains infuriated by a series of demonstrations in Stockholm by activists who have burned the Quran outside the Turkish Embassy and hanged an effigy of Erdogan.
"Sweden, don't even bother! As long as you allow my holy book, the Quran, to be burned and torn, and you do so together with your security forces, we will not say ‘yes’ to your entry into NATO," Erdogan said, according to The Associated Press.
In response to the demonstrations, Turkey also has indefinitely postponed a key meeting in Brussels that would have discussed Sweden and Finland’s entry into NATO.
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Swedish government officials have distanced themselves from the protests, including by a far-right anti-Islam activist who burned copies of the Quran in Stockholm and Copenhagen, Denmark, while also stressing that the demonstrations are protected by freedom of speech.
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On Tuesday, Swedish Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson denounced the activists who carried out the demonstrations as "useful idiots" for foreign powers who want to inflict harm on the Scandinavian country as it seeks to join NATO.
"We have seen how foreign actors, even state actors, have used these manifestations to inflame the situation in a way that is directly harmful to Swedish security," Kristersson told reporters in Stockholm, without naming any countries.
Sweden and neighboring Finland abandoned decades of nonalignment and applied to join NATO in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. All NATO members except Turkey and Hungary have ratified their accession, but unanimity is required.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.