Protests in Stockholm, including Quran burning, lead to strong condemnation of Turkey

STOCKHOLM, Jan. 21 (Reuters) – Protests in Stockholm on Saturday against Turkey and Sweden’s bid to join NATO, including the burning of a copy of the Quran, have sharply heightened tensions with Turkey at a time when the Nordic country needs Ankara’s support to gain access to military alliance.

“We condemn in the strongest possible terms the vicious attack against our holy book… Allowing this anti-Islam act, which targets Muslims and offends our sacred values, under the guise of freedom of expression, is completely unacceptable said the Turkish Foreign Ministry. said.

The statement was issued after an anti-immigrant politician from the far-right fringe burned a copy of the Quran near the Turkish embassy. The Turkish ministry urged Sweden to take necessary measures against the perpetrators and invited all countries to take concrete steps against Islamophobia.

A separate protest took place in the city in support of the Kurds and against Sweden’s bid to join NATO. A group of pro-Turkish protesters also held a rally outside the embassy. All three events had police permits.

Swedish Foreign Minister Tobias Billstrom said Islamophobic provocations were terrible.

“Sweden has far-reaching freedom of expression, but that does not mean that the Swedish government, or myself, supports the opinions expressed,” Billstrom said on Twitter.

The Quran burning was carried out by Rasmus Paludan, leader of the Danish far-right political party Hard Line. Paludan, who is also a Swedish citizen, has held a number of demonstrations in the past where he burned the Koran.

Paludan was not immediately available by email for comment. The permit he received from the police states that his protest was held against Islam and Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan’s alleged attempt to influence freedom of expression in Sweden.

Several Arab countries, including Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Kuwait, denounced the Quran burning. “Saudi Arabia calls for spreading the values ​​of dialogue, tolerance and coexistence, and rejects hate and extremism,” the Saudi foreign ministry said in a statement.

Sweden and Finland applied to join NATO last year after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, but all 30 member states must approve their bids. Turkey has said Sweden in particular must first take a clearer stance against what it sees as terrorists, mainly Kurdish militants and a group it blames for a 2016 coup attempt.

At the demonstration to protest Sweden’s NATO bid and show support for the Kurds, speakers stood in front of a large red banner reading “We are all PKK”, referring to the Kurdistan Workers’ Party banned in Turkey, Sweden and the United States. among other countries, and addressed several hundred pro-Kurdish and leftist supporters.

“We will continue our opposition to the Swedish NATO request,” Thomas Pettersson, spokesman for Alliance Against NATO and one of the organizers of the demonstration, told Reuters.

According to the police, the situation at all three demonstrations was calm.

VISIT OF THE MINISTER OF DEFENSE CANCELLED

Earlier on Saturday, Turkey said it had canceled a planned visit to Ankara by Sweden’s defense minister due to lack of measures to contain the protests.

“At the moment, the visit of Swedish Defense Minister Pal Jonson to Turkey on January 27 has become meaningless. Therefore, we canceled the visit,” Defense Minister Hulusi Akar said.

Jonson said separately that he and Akar had met Friday at a meeting of Western allies in Germany and had decided to postpone the planned meeting.

Akar said he had discussed with Erdogan the lack of measures to limit protests in Sweden against Turkey and conveyed Ankara’s response to Jonson on the sidelines of a Ukrainian Defense Contact Group meeting.

“It is unacceptable not to take action or respond to these (protests). Necessary things had to be done, measures should have been taken,” Akar said, according to a statement from Turkey’s defense ministry.

The Turkish Foreign Ministry had already summoned the Swedish ambassador on Friday because of the planned protests.

Finland and Sweden signed a three-pronged agreement with Turkey in 2022 to address Ankara’s objections to their NATO membership. Sweden says it has fulfilled its part of the memorandum, but Turkey is demanding more, including the extradition of 130 people it considers terrorists.

(This story has been corrected to remove the erroneous reference to Morocco in the ninth paragraph)

Reporting by Omer Berberoglu in Istanbul and Niklas Pollard and Simon Johnson in Stockholm Additional reporting by Moaz Abd-Alaziz in Cairo Writing by Ezgi Erkoyun and Niklas Pollard Editing by Toby Chopra and Frances Kerry

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Principles of Trust.

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