STOCKHOLM (Reuters) – Protests in Stockholm on Saturday against Turkey and Sweden’s bid to join NATO, including the burning of a copy of the Holy Quran, heightened tensions with Turkey at a time when the Scandinavian country needs Ankara’s support to gain entry. for the military alliance.
Turkey’s Foreign Ministry said, “We condemn in the strongest terms the despicable attack on our holy book… Allowing this anti-Islamic act that targets Muslims and insults our sacred values, under the cover of freedom of expression, is absolutely unacceptable.” He said.
Her statement was issued after a far-right anti-immigration politician burned a copy of the Quran near the Turkish embassy. The Turkish Ministry urged Sweden to take necessary measures against the perpetrators and called on all countries to take concrete steps against Islamophobia.
A separate demonstration took place in the city in support of the Kurds and against Sweden’s attempt to join NATO. A group of pro-Turkish protesters also held a rally outside the embassy. All three events had police clearances.
Swedish Foreign Minister Tobias Billström said the anti-Islam provocations were appalling.
“Sweden has far-reaching freedom of expression, but it does not mean that the Swedish government, or I, endorse the opinions that are expressed,” Billstrom said on Twitter.
The Koran was burned by Rasmus Paludan, leader of the Danish far-right Hard Line party. Paludan, who also holds Swedish citizenship, has organized a number of demonstrations in the past where Qurans have been burned.
Paludan could not be immediately reached by email for comment. The statement he obtained from the police stated that his protest was against Islam and what he called Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s attempt to influence freedom of expression in Sweden.
Several Arab countries, including Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Kuwait, condemned the burning of the Qur’an. “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 last year applied to join NATO in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, but all 30 member states have to agree to their offers. Turkey said Sweden in particular should first take a clearer stance against what it views as terrorists, mostly Kurdish militants and the group it blames for the 2016 coup attempt.
At the demonstration to protest Sweden’s bid for NATO and to show support for the Kurds, speakers stood in front of a large red banner reading “We are all the PKK”, referring to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) in Turkey, Sweden and the United States. Among other countries, he addressed several hundred pro-Kurds and leftists.
“We will continue to oppose Sweden’s request for NATO,” Thomas Peterson, a spokesman for the coalition against NATO and one of the organizers of the demonstration, told Reuters.
Police said the situation was calm during the three demonstrations.
The visit of the Minister of Defense was cancelled
Earlier on Saturday, Turkey said that due to a lack of measures to curb protests, it had canceled a planned visit to Ankara by the Swedish defense minister.
Swedish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar said, “At this stage, Swedish Defense Minister Pal Johnson’s visit to Turkey on January 27 has become meaningless. Therefore, we have canceled the visit.”
Johnson said separately that he met Akar on Friday during a gathering of Western allies in Germany and they 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 response to Johnson on the sidelines of a meeting of the Ukraine Defense Contact Group.
“It is unacceptable not to take a step or respond to these (protests). Necessary 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 trilateral agreement with Turkey in 2022 aimed at overcoming Ankara’s objections to their NATO membership. Sweden says it has fulfilled its part of the warrant, but Turkey demands 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 Abdelaziz in Cairo Writing by Ezge Erkoyun and Niklas Pollard Editing by Toby Chopra and Frances Kerry
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