EU Parliament MEPs evacuated as Kurdish protesters break in

Kurdish activists disrupt the plenary sitting in European Parliament

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A small protest by pro-Kurdish activists briefly forced the suspension of a plenary session of the European Union’s parliament on Wednesday. The protesters were in the visitors’ area of the parliament when they unfurled flags supporting jailed Kurdish rebel leader Abdullah Ocalan and started shouting as the legislators were holding a debate on climate and environmental issues.

Parliamentary leaders asked for the protesters to leave but when they would not, the session was suspended. Security personnel were seen tugging at flags during a brief tussle. No one was injured.

The parliamentary session was set to resume Wednesday afternoon.

Ocalan, who founded the Kurdistan Workers Party, or PKK, in 1978, was convicted of treason in Turkey and has been in prison since 1999.

The protest comes at a time Turkey is blocking efforts to let Finland and Sweden join NATO, accusing the government in Stockholm of being too lenient toward groups it deems as terror organisations or existential threats, including Kurdish groups.

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg on Wednesday said he was heading to Ankara to discuss the issue with the Turkish president and foreign minister.

Finland and neighbouring Sweden abandoned decades of nonalignment and applied to join the 30-nation alliance in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine a year ago. All NATO members except Turkey and Hungary have ratified their accession, but unanimity is required.

Stoltenberg and most allies have long insisted that the Nordic neighbours should join at the same time.

Earlier this month, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said Ankara has fewer problems with Finland joining.

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After chairing a meeting of NATO defence ministers, Stoltenberg told reporters: “There are different assessments in Turkey about to what extent Finland and Sweden are in the same position to be ratified, and that is a Turkish decision.

“That’s not a NATO decision. It’s a decision by Turkey.”

Stoltenberg added that “the sequencing is not the most important thing. The most important thing is that both Finland and Sweden soon become members of the alliance,” breaking with a stance he has voiced for many months that it was important that they join together.

But the former Norwegian prime minister did not criticise Turkey. The country was rocked last week by a devastating earthquake and aftershocks that killed more than 39,000 people there and in neighbouring Syria.

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Turkey is also in an election year, and the topic of Nordic membership of NATO is a possible vote winner.

In recent weeks, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has expressed anger at a series of separate demonstrations in Stockholm. In one case a solitary anti-Islam activist burned the Quran outside the Turkish Embassy, while in an unconnected protest an effigy of Erdogan was hanged.

Swedish Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson has said it would be “unfortunate” if Finland entered NATO first.

Stoltenberg was due to fly to Ankara later Wednesday and meet Erdogan and Cavusoglu.

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