New anti-terror law should convince Turkey to back NATO bid, Swedish minister says

  • World
  • Wednesday, 31 May 2023

FILE PHOTO: Sweden's Foreign Minister Tobias Billstrom listens during news conference in Riga, Latvia January 27, 2023. REUTERS/Ints Kalnins

LULEA, Sweden (Reuters) - New anti-terrorism legislation which comes into force this week should pave the way for Sweden to join NATO in coming weeks and overcome a Turkish veto, Swedish Foreign Minister Tobias Billstrom said on Wednesday.

Sweden and Finland applied for NATO membership following Russia's invasion of Ukraine in 2022. While Finland joined the military alliance in April, Sweden's bid has been held up by Turkey despite a deal struck in Madrid last year to meet its security concerns.

"This new legislation will close a loophole in our already existing anti-terrorist legislation," Billstrom told reporters in Lulea, northern Sweden. "Sweden has not previously prohibited participation in a terrorist organisation. We will do this now."

Turkey says Sweden harbours members of militant groups it considers to be terrorists.

The new legislation, which Billstrom said completed Sweden's commitments made in Madrid, will make it illegal to arrange meetings or provide logistical or financial help or even food to outlawed groups.

The wide scope of the law has sparked concerns in Sweden about whether it could infringe freedom of speech and other fundamental rights. But the government hopes it will convince newly re-elected Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan to give the green light to its NATO membership before an alliance summit in Vilnius in July.

Erdogan has come under pressure, not least from the United States, to back Sweden's NATO bid, but so far he has refused to budge. Billstrom said he hoped a NATO gathering in Oslo this week would underline the need for a quick accession.

"I expect clear messages coming out ... that Sweden is welcome into the NATO family and that there is a high expectation that we will be a member before Vilnius," he said.

Billstrom had hoped to meet his counterpart, Mevlut Cavusoglu, in Oslo, but the Turkish Foreign Minister will not be attending.

However, Billstrom said the two countries would meet within the framework of the Madrid process, "which again is much more important than two ministers sitting down and drinking coffee".

Sweden's new terrorism legislation may get an early test.

Turkey wants Sweden to prosecute individuals who projected the flag of the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) on the parliament building in Stockholm at the time of the Turkish elections.

The PKK has led an insurgency against the Turkish state since 1984 and more than 40,000 people have been killed in clashes. It is considered a terrorist organisation by Turkey, the European Union and the United States.

(Reporting by Philip Blenkinsop in Lulea and Simon Johnson in Stockholm; Editing by Niklas Pollard and David Holmes)

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