Portugal's parliament backs NATO membership for Finland and Sweden

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FILE PHOTO: Members of Portugal's Parliament vote on the 2022 state budget draft

LISBON (Reuters) - Portugal's parliament ratified the entry of Finland and Sweden to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization on Friday, bringing the most significant expansion of the alliance since the 1990s a step closer as NATO responds to Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

The 230-seat Portuguese parliament ratified the entry of the two Nordic countries into NATO by a 219-11 vote, with only the Communists and Left Bloc voting against.

"By approving Finland and Sweden joining NATO, parliament reinforces its commitment to peace in Europe, the collective security of the Euro-Atlantic area, but also to human rights and democracy," Marcos Perestrello, a lawmaker from the ruling Socialist Party, said during the debate.

Finland, which has a land border with Russia, and Sweden which lies just to the west of Finland, applied for membership in the 30-nation alliance, abandoning decades of foreign policy neutrality, in response to the Feb. 24 invasion of Ukraine.

NATO allies signed their accession protocol in July. It must be ratified by the parliaments of all its members before Finland and Sweden can be protected by the NATO defence clause, which considers an attack on one member as an attack against all.

Following Friday's vote in Portugal and a similar ratification by neighbouring Spain on Thursday, only Hungary, Slovakia and Turkey remain on the list.

Russia, which says its forces are engaged in "a special military operation" in Ukraine, sees the entry of Sweden and Finland into NATO as a destabilising move.

(Reporting by Sergio Goncalves; Editing by Andrei Khalip and Paul Simao)