Turkey summons nine Western ambassadors over security alerts

FILE PHOTO: Turkish Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu speaks during a news conference in Istanbul, Turkey, August 21, 2019. Ahmet Bolat/Pool via REUTERS/File Photo/File Photo

ANKARA (Reuters) - Turkey summoned ambassadors of nine Western countries including the United States and Sweden on Thursday to criticise their decisions to temporarily shut diplomatic missions and issue security alerts following Koran-burning incidents in Europe.

The envoys of Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Switzerland, and Britain were also summoned, according to foreign ministry sources in Ankara.

Over the last two weeks, far-right activists burned copies of the Muslim holy book, the Koran, in Sweden, Denmark and the Netherlands, acts that prompted Turkey to halt negotiations meant to lift its objections to Sweden and Finland joining NATO.

The European countries have denounced the incidents but some say they cannot prevent them because of free speech rules.

Over the last week, France, Germany, Italy and the United States were among those issuing warnings to their citizens of an increased risk of attacks in Turkey, particularly against diplomatic missions and non-Muslim places of worship.

Germany, France and the Netherlands were among countries that temporarily closed diplomatic missions in Turkey for security reasons this week. Some cited central Istanbul areas of high concern but did not provide the source of the information.

"Such simultaneous activities do not constitute a proportional and commonsense approach and...only serve the covert agenda of terrorist organizations," said a foreign ministry source who asked not to be further identified.

The source added that the security of all diplomatic missions is ensured in accordance with international conventions and "allies should cooperate with" Turkish authorities.

The interior minister, Suleyman Soylu, said on Twitter the embassies were waging "a new psychological war" against Turkey.

All 30 NATO members must approve newcomers. Sweden and Finland applied for membership last year in the face of Russia's invasion of Ukraine, but ran into surprise resistance from Turkey.

Since then they have sought to win its backing including agreeing to take a harder line domestically against those Turkey says are members of the Kurdistan Workers' Party, the PKK, designated a terrorist group by Ankara and the European Union.

On Thursday, police in NATO member Norway banned a planned anti-Islam protest including the burning of the Koran for security reasons, hours after the Turkish foreign ministry summoned Oslo's ambassador to complain.

Diplomatic tensions rose last weekend when Turkey responded to the initial U.S. security alert by warning its citizens against "possible Islamophobic, xenophobic and racist attacks" in the United States and Europe.

The U.S. embassy confirmed its Ambassador Jeffry Flake attended a meeting at Turkey's foreign ministry on Thursday. Two European diplomatic sources said envoys from Germany, France and the Netherlands were also summoned.

(Writing by Jonathan Spicer; Editing by Alison Williams, Peter Graff and Mark Heinrich)

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