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Protests in Stockholm, including Koran burning, draw strong condemnation from Turkey

STOCKHOLM, Jan 21 (Reuters) – Protests in Stockholm on Saturday against Turkey’s and Sweden’s bid for NATO membership, including the burning of a copy of the Koran, sharply increased tensions with Turkey at a time when the Nordic country needs Ankara’s support to enter. to the military alliance.

“We condemn in the strongest terms the despicable attack on our holy book… Allowing this anti-Islamic act, which targets Muslims and insults our sacred values, under the guise of freedom of expression is totally unacceptable,” the Turkish Foreign Ministry said. said.

His statement was released after a far-right fringe anti-immigrant politician burned a copy of the Quran near the Turkish Embassy. The Turkish ministry urged Sweden to take necessary action against the perpetrators and called on all countries to take concrete action against Islamophobia.

A separate demonstration was held in the city in support of the Kurds and against Sweden’s bid for NATO membership. A group of pro-Turkish protesters also staged a rally outside the embassy. All three events had police permits.

Swedish Foreign Minister Tobias Billstrom said the Islamophobic provocations were appalling.

“Sweden has a great deal of freedom of expression, but that does not imply that the Swedish government, or myself, supports the opinions expressed,” Billstrom said on Twitter.

The cremation of the Koran was carried out by Rasmus Paludan, leader of the Danish far-right political party Hard Line. Paludan, who also has Swedish nationality, has staged a number of protests in the past where he burned the Koran.

Paludan could not immediately be reached by email for comment. In the permit he obtained from the police, it is stated that his demonstration was organized against Islam and what he called Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan’s attempt to influence freedom of expression in Sweden.

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

Sweden and Finland applied last year to join NATO after Russia invaded Ukraine, but all 30 member states must approve their application. 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 accuses of attempting a coup in 2016 .

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

“We will continue our opposition to Sweden’s NATO bid,” Thomas Pettersson, spokesman for Alliance Against NATO and one of the organizers of the protest, told Reuters.

Police said the situation was calm at all three protests.


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

“At this point, Swedish Defense Minister Pal Jonson’s visit to Turkey on January 27 no longer makes sense. We have therefore canceled the visit,” Defense Minister Hulusi Akar said.

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

Akar said he discussed with Erdogan the lack of measures to curb protests in Sweden against Turkey and conveyed Ankara’s reaction to Jonson on the sidelines of a meeting of the Contact Group in Defense of Turkey. ‘Ukraine.

“It is unacceptable not to move or react to these (protests). The necessary things had to be done, measures should have been taken,” Akar said, according to a statement from the Turkish Defense Ministry.

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

Finland and Sweden signed a tripartite agreement with Turkey in 2022 aimed at overcoming Ankara’s objections to joining NATO. Sweden says it has fulfilled its part of the memorandum but Turkey is asking for 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 Trust Principles.

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