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Turkish lawmakers from the Ruling Justice and Development Party lawmakers vote in favour of Finland's bid to join Nato, late Thursday, March 30, 2023, at the parliament in Ankara. All 276 lawmakers present voted unanimously in favour of Finland's bid, days after Hungary's parliament also endorsed Helsinki's accession. Image Credit: AP

ANKARA: Turkey’s parliament approved a bill on Thursday to allow Finland to join Nato, clearing the way for the country to become part of the Western defence alliance as war rages in Ukraine.

The Turkish parliament was the last among the 30 members of the alliance to ratify Finland’s membership after Hungary’s legislature approved a similar bill earlier this week.

President Tayyip Erdogan said earlier in March that Finland had secured Turkey’s blessing after taking concrete steps to keep promises to crack down on groups seen by Ankara as terrorists, and to free up defence exports.

Finland and Sweden asked to join Nato last year in response to Russia’s attacks on Ukraine. But the process has been held up by Turkey and Hungary. The parliaments of all Nato members must ratify newcomers.

“Nato membership will strengthen Finland’s security and improve stability and security in the Baltic Sea region and Northern Europe,” the Finnish government said in a statement following the Turkish parliament vote.

Turkey is still holding off approving the membership bid of Finland’s neighbour Sweden, which Ankara says has not gone far enough in cracking down on people Turkey considers terrorists.

The three countries signed a pact on the issue last year.

The Turkish parliament’s foreign affairs commission had unanimously approved the Finland bill last week. The Turkish legislative process was happening as it prepares for parliamentary and presidential elections on May 14.

Finland’s membership would represent the first enlargement since North Macedonia joined the alliance in 2020.

Turkey has repeatedly said that Sweden needed to take additional steps against supporters of Kurdish militants and members of the network Ankara holds responsible for a 2016 coup attempt. Turkey treats both groups as terrorist organisations.

Talks between Sweden and Turkey have made little progress, especially following several disputes mainly over street protests by pro-Kurdish groups in Stockholm.

The US State Department said it welcomed Turkey’s ratification for Finland and encouraged it to quickly ratify Sweden’s accession as well.

“Sweden and Finland are both strong, capable partners that share Nato’s values and will strengthen the Alliance and contribute to European security,” a department spokesperson said.