Turkey has summoned the Swedish ambassador after a Kurdish group hung an effigy of the Turkish president in Stockholm, in a stunt that has inflamed tensions between the two countries over Sweden’s bid to join Nato.
Sweden’s foreign minister, Tobias Billström, said his government strongly distanced itself from “threats and hatred against political representatives”. Without naming any specific country, he added: “Portraying a popularly elected president as being executed outside City Hall is abhorrent.”
His words did little to calm anger in Turkey, which summoned Sweden’s ambassador to Ankara to voice its anger. “Our expectation – that the perpetrators of the incident need to be identified, the necessary processes be carried out and Sweden uphold its promises – was emphasised,” a Turkish source told Reuters.
The stunt was organised by a Kurdish group, the Rojava Committee of Sweden, which compared Recep Tayyip Erdoğan to Italy’s fascist dictator Benito Mussolini, who was hung upside down after his execution in the final days of the second world war.
“History shows how dictators end up,” the group wrote above a video posted on social media showing pictures of Mussolini and a dummy painted to look like Erdoğan swinging on a rope by the legs.
In a historic decision in May, Sweden and Finland announced they wished to join the Nato military alliance, in response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
While 28 out of 30 Nato members have ratified their bids, Hungary and Turkey have not, with the latter likely to prove the biggest hurdle. Ankara has so far refused to ratify the applications unless the two countries do more to clamp down on Kurdish groups it regards as terrorists.
Only a day before the latest row, Sweden’s prime minister, Ulf Kristersson, had said talks with Ankara were “going very well”. Kristersson said “we are proceeding in a good way” on a trilateral memo between Turkey, Sweden and Finland, but declined to give a date on membership entry.
Kristersson said there were “different opinions” with Turkey on what needed to be done for Stockholm to join the military alliance, but conceded there had been a gap in Sweden’s counter-terrorism laws.
“We are showing Turkey that we are doing exactly what we promised to do, not least in the field of fighting terrorism,” he told reporters in Stockholm on Wednesday. “I think that has been one of the core tasks: to strengthen the Swedish legislation on counter-terrorism, to recognise the fact that activities on Swedish soil can be dangerous to other countries … Recognising the fact that Turkey has been one of the countries hurt most by terrorism.”
Kristersson said Turkey sometimes named people it wanted to extradite from Sweden, but that such decisions were the responsibility of Sweden’s courts, not its government. “I don’t think that should [over-]shadow the fact that these [discussions] are going well,” he said.
Hungary is the other country yet to ratify Sweden’s membership bid. Swedish sources expressed confidence the Hungarian parliament would take that step in February. They also played down suggestions that Budapest would use Stockholm’s membership hopes as leverage to gain an advantage in an unrelated EU dispute over the rule of law in Hungary.