STOCKHOLM (AP) — Swedish Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson on Tuesday denounced activists who burned the Quran and hanged an effigy of Turkey’s president in Stockholm as “useful idiots” for foreign powers who want to inflict harm on the Scandinavian country as it seeks to join NATO.
“We have seen how foreign actors, even state actors, have used these manifestations to inflame the situation in a way that is directly harmful to Swedish security,” Kristersson told reporters in Stockholm, without naming any countries.
The prime minister gathered leaders of Sweden’s parliamentary parties to discuss the national security situation amid rising tensions with Turkey and a wave of anti-Swedish protests in other Muslim countries.
The protests came in reaction to a series of small demonstrations this month in Stockholm targeting Turkey and its president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
In one protest, an effigy of Erdogan was hanged on a lamp post outside Stockholm’s City Hall. In another, a far-right activist burned a Quran outside the Turkish Embassy.
Ankara reacted furiously to the protests and warned that Sweden could not expect its support in joining NATO.
Swedish government officials have distanced themselves from the protests while stressing that they are protected by freedom of speech.
“The groups and individuals who carried out this kind of action, in this security situation, they become useful idiots for forces that wish harm upon Sweden,” Kristersson said.
He said tht his center-right government is working through diplomatic channels to cool down the situation and that he had spoken by phone with U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres.
Sweden and neighboring Finland abandoned decades of non-alignment and applied to join NATO in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. All NATO members except Turkey and Hungary have ratified their accession, but unanimity is required.