ISTANBUL (AP) — Turkey’s president has suggested his country might approve Finland’s application for NATO membership before taking any action on Sweden’s, while the Turkish government issued a travel warning for European countries due to anti-Turkish demonstrations and what it described as Islamophobia.
The travel warning published late Saturday followed demonstrations last weekend outside the Turkish Embassy in Sweden, where an anti-Islam activist burned the Quran and pro-Kurdish groups protested against Turkey. The events stiffened Turkey’s refusal so far to ratify Sweden’s NATO bid.
Sweden and Finland applied jointly to become members of the military alliance, dropping their longstanding military nonalignment following Russia’s war on Ukraine. In a prerecorded video of an event released Sunday, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan indicated that Turkey might sign off on only Finland.
“If needed, we could give a different message about Finland. Sweden will be shocked when we give the different message about Finland.” Erdogan said to a group of young people in Bilecik province.
Turkey has accused the government in Stockholm of being too lenient toward groups it deems as terror organizations or existential threats, including Kurdish groups. NATO requires unanimous approval of its existing members to add new ones, but Erdogan’s government has said it would only agree to admit Sweden if the country met its conditions.
In its travel warning to citizens, the Turkish foreign ministry cited an increase in anti-Turkish protests by “groups with links to terror groups,” a reference to the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, which has waged a decades-long insurgency against Turkey. Along with Turkey, the European Union and United States also designate the PKK as a terror group.
Pro-Kurdish groups have waved the flags of the PKK and its affiliates during protests in Sweden organized as a response to Sweden and Finland’s promise to prevent the PKK’s activities in their countries in order to gain Turkey’s approval for their NATO memberships.
Erdogan said he told the Swedish prime minister, “You will extradite these terrorists if you really want to enter NATO. If you don’t extradite these terrorists, then sorry.” He said Turkey had provided a list of 120 people it wants extradited from Sweden, a demand that was part of a memorandum signed in June that averted Turkey’s veto of the Nordic nations’ joint application.
Turkey is demanding the extradition of alleged PKK militants as well as some followers of Fethullah Gulen, the Muslim cleric accused of the 2016 attempted coup. In December, the Swedish Supreme Court said the country cannot extradite Bulent Kenes, the former editor-in-chief of a newspaper linked to Gulen, angering Turkey.
Turkey also strongly condemned far-right activist Rasmus Paludan’s burning of the Quran last weekend in Stockholm, which he repeated in Copenhagen Friday. Ankara summoned the Dutch ambassador after another far-right activist tore pages of the Quran in the Hague.
Following last week’s protests, Erdogan warned Sweden not to expect support for its membership bid for the military alliance. Turkey also indefinitely postponed a key meeting in Brussels that would have discussed Sweden and Finland’s NATO membership.
The Turkish foreign ministry urged its citizens to take precautions and stay away from demonstration areas in Europe. It also said they should go to local authorities if they face xenophobic or racist attacks.
In a separate advisory, the ministry also urged Turkish citizens to be vigilant in the United States in case of protests in response to the fatal beating by Memphis, Tennessee, police of Tyre Nichols, an unarmed Black man.
Earlier Saturday, before Turkey had issued its travel warning, the Nordic countries separately issued updated travel guidelines for Turkey. Denmark, Finland, Norway and Sweden urged their citizens visiting Turkey to avoid large gatherings and to exercise caution.
The Swedish Foreign Ministry said in a message on its website that Sweden’s embassy in Ankara remains closed to the public and visitors to the country’s consulate general in Istanbul are “requested to exercise vigilance.”
“We want to make Swedes in Turkey aware that further manifestations may occur,” the Swedish ministry said, referring to counter-protests that erupted in Turkey after last weekend’s events in Stockholm.
Jari Tanner in Helsinki contributed.