Swedish minister quits, accused of links to Turkish radicals

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STOCKHOLM (AP) — Sweden's housing minister stepped down Monday amid mounting questions over his contacts with Islamists and ultra-nationalists from his native Turkey.

Mehmet Kaplan, a 44-year-old Green Party member and former spokesman of Sweden's Muslim Council, didn't admit any wrongdoing but said he was resigning because the criticism against him was interfering with his ability to perform his job.

"Let me be clear: This is not a confirmation of reports about me that I consider wrongful. I know who I am and what I have done," Kaplan told reporters in Stockholm.

Kaplan came under pressure last week after Swedish media published photos showing him dining with Turkish Swedish leaders, including the local leader of the Gray Wolves, an ultra-nationalist group.

Kaplan said he didn't know the person in question and distanced himself from the group, but soon found himself on the defensive again, as media reported that he had met representatives of a Turkish Islamist organization on several occasions.

Kaplan, who was briefly detained in Israel in 2010 for joining a Gaza-bound aid flotilla, also faced criticism for having compared Israel's treatment of Palestinians to how the Nazis persecuted Jews.

Kaplan said he will remain an active member of the Green Party, and that he still has the support of the party leadership. The Greens are the junior partner in a coalition government led by the Social Democrats.

Prime Minister Stefan Lofven called Kaplan "a man with humanist and democratic values" but said his decision to step down was correct after an "overall assessment" of the situation.

Lofven said Financial Markets Minister Per Bolund will temporarily take over Kaplan's housing portfolio until a replacement has been appointed.

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