ANKARA, Jan 16 (Reuters) – Sweden and Finland must deport or extradite up to 130 “terrorists” to Turkey before the Turkish parliament approves their bids for NATO membership, President Tayyip Erdogan said.
The two Scandinavian countries applied last year to join NATO after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, but their applications must be approved by all 30 NATO member states. Turkey and Hungary have not yet approved the applications.
Turkey said Sweden in particular must first take a clearer stance against what it sees as terrorists, mainly Kurdish fighters and a group it blames for the 2016 coup attempt.
“We said look, so if you don’t hand over your terrorists to us, we can’t push it (the approval of the NATO bid) through parliament anyway,” Erdogan said in comments late Sunday, referring to a joint news conference that he held with Swedish Prime Minister Ulf Kristerson last November.
“For this to pass in parliament, you must first hand over more than 100, about 130 of these terrorists to us,” Erdogan said.
Finnish politicians interpreted Erdogan’s request as an angry response to an incident in Stockholm last week in which the Turkish leader was was strung up during what appeared to be a small protest.
“I think it must have been a reaction to the events of the last few days,” Finnish Foreign Minister Pekka Haavisto told public broadcaster YLE.
Haavisto said he was not aware of any new official requests from Turkey.
In response to the Stockholm incident, Turkey canceled a planned visit to Ankara by Swedish Parliament Speaker Andreas Norlen, who instead came to Helsinki on Monday.
“We emphasize that in Finland and in Sweden we have freedom of expression. We cannot control her,” Finnish Parliament Speaker Matti Vanhanen told reporters at a joint press conference with Norlen.
Separately on Monday, Swedish Prime Minister Kristerson said his country was in a “good position” to secure Turkey’s ratification of its NATO bid.
Erdogan’s spokesman Ibrahim Kalin said on Saturday, time was running out for the Turkish parliament to ratify the nominations before presidential and parliamentary elections expected in May.
Report by Edze Toksabay; Editing by Jonathan Spicer and Gareth Jones
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