People take part in a demonstration against Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan arranged by The Kurdish Democratic Society Centre in Sweden, in Stockholm, on January 21. 2023. Image Credit: AP

ISTANBUL: Turkey on Saturday called off a visit by Sweden’s defence minister over a planned demonstration by a right-wing extremist in Stockholm, sparking a fresh crisis over NATO talks between the two countries.

Turkey has been angered by permission obtained by Rasmus Paludan, a Swedish-Danish politician whose anti-Islamist actions sparked riots across Sweden last year, to stage a protest in front of its embassy in the Swedish capital.

A day after summoning the Swedish ambassador over the issue, Ankara said it was cancelling a visit by Sweden’s defence chief that was aimed at overcoming Turkey’s objections to Sweden’s bid to join the NATO military alliance.

“At this point, Swedish Defence Minister Pal Jonson’s visit to Turkey on January 27 has lost its significance and meaning, so we cancelled the visit,” Turkish Defence Minister Hulusi Akar said.

Jonson also confirmed the decision to postpone the visit, which he said was made together with Akar at the US military base in Ramstein, Germany, on Friday.

“Our relations with Turkey are very important to Sweden, and we look forward to continuing the dialogue on common security and defence issues at a later date,” he tweeted.

The protest went ahead as planned later Saturday under heavy police protection, according to an AFP journalist.

Around 100 people - including a large number of journalists, gathered near the Turkish embassy in Stockholm.

A small pro-Turkish demonstration also took place on the other side of the embassy.

Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu vented fury at Swedish authorities’ failure to ban the protest. “It’s a racist action, it’s not about freedom of expression,” he said.

Turkish presidential spokesman Ibrahim Kalin on Saturday said allowing the protest despite Ankara’s repeated warnings was “encouraging hate crimes and Islamophobia”.

“The attack on sacred values is not freedom but modern barbarism,” he tweeted. The right-wing ally of the government was more furious.

“Sweden’s Nato membership will not be approved by the parliament,” Devlet Bahceli, leader of the MHP party, said.

Turkey had on Friday summoned Sweden’s ambassador to “condemn this provocative action which is clearly a hate crime - in strongest terms,” a diplomatic source said.