29th Sep 2023

Erdoğan tells Swedish police to stop protests

  • Swedish police in Stockholm - Turkish president urged crackdown on Kurdish rallies (Photo: TT News Agency/Noella Johansson/via Reuters)
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Turkey says Sweden's police must halt pro-Kurdish protests if it wants to join Nato, as talks intensify ahead of a Western summit in July.

Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan made the startling demand in a press briefing reported by state media on Wednesday (13 June), as Nato-accession talks were being held in Ankara.

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"What is the job of the police there [in Sweden]? They have legal and constitutional rights, they should exercise their rights. The police should prevent these [protests]," he said.

He had earlier called for Sweden to extradite over 100 Kurdish and other dissidents who sought asylum there.

And his recent appointment of a fearsome former intelligence chief, Hakan Fidan, as foreign minister has worried some analysts the Sweden row could get worse.

Sweden was meant to join Nato along with Finland to protect themselves from Russia, but Turkey has vetoed the Swedes and Hungary has also not yet ratified Swedish accession.

Erdoğan's remarks on Swedish police and Kurdish protests were immediately seen as an affront to EU democracy.

"While he has openly expressed his desire for the deportation of more individuals from the Kurdish community in Sweden and the imposition of further restrictions on the rights to assemble, rally, and peacefully protest, he is essentially seeking absolute power reminiscent of an Ottoman Sultan," said Bülent Keneş, a Turkish journalist exiled in Sweden.

"Time has come for the major players within Nato to fulfil their responsibilities and rein in Erdoğan", Keneş added.

But for all Erdoğan's grandstanding, Finnish, Swedish, Turkish, and Nato officials said Wednesday's Ankara talks were fairly constructive.

"It's my job to persuade our counterpart that we have done enough. I think we have, but Turkey is not ready to make a decision yet and thinks that they need to have more answers to the questions they have," Sweden's chief negotiator Oscar Stenström told AP.

Turkey said they discussed "prospective concrete steps" ahead of a Nato summit in Vilnius next month.

"Some progress has been made, and we will continue to work for the ratification of Sweden as soon as possible," Nato head Jens Stoltenberg said.

Sweden has lifted an arms embargo on Turkey, tightened its terrorism laws, and its courts extradited a handful of people on Turkey's list, while rejecting most cases.

It has also seen Quran and Erdoğan-effigy burnings on top of pro-Kurdish rallies in recent months, stoking bad will.

But the fact Erdoğan won re-election earlier in June means the political space for a Sweden deal is opening up despite his provocative rhetoric.

"He has something to gain in terms of now playing the statesman [instead of a nationalist]," said Jamie Shea, a former senior Nato official.

"It is less obvious what he has to gain by continuing to hold up Sweden's Nato accession. But he may try to wring a few last-minute additional concessions, such as a few more extraditions," Shea, who now teaches war studies at Exeter University in the UK, added.

Fidan factor

Fidan, Turkey's new foreign minister, was formerly responsible for Erdoğan's merciless crackdowns on his political opponents inside Turkey.

But even if Kurdish and other Turkish activists hate him, he might also be the man to help Erdoğan see sense, Shea said.

"As the long-standing intelligence chief, he [Fidan] certainly knows all the dossiers inside out and has a good grasp of Turkey's core security interests. He is a pragmatist rather than a man with a grand vision of Turkey's foreign policy and role in the region and the wider world. This may suit Turkey's Western allies well at the present time", Shea told EUobserver.

For his part, Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orbán is expected to follow Erdoğan's lead on Sweden.

But his ruling Fidesz party has until 7 July at the latest to table a ratification vote before parliament's summer recess — just four days before the Nato summit starts in Lithuania.

"Orbán keeps supporting Erdoğan's blackmailing policy toward Sweden, while also helping [Russian president Vladimir] Putin's rhetoric on the division of Nato," said Ágnes Vadai, an MP from Hungary's opposition Democratic Coalition party.

"By doing so, he [Orbán] systematically undermines Hungary's position in the [Western] alliance", she added.

Orbán: Ties with Sweden need to improve to join Nato

Budapest previously delayed ratifying Finland's application, and has cited grievances with criticism from both Helsinki and Stockholm of Viktor Orbán's domestic record on democracy and the rule of law.

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