The protests in Stockholm on Saturday, which included the burning of Quran by an anti-Islamic extremist, drew international condemnation and heightened tensions with Turkey.
Turkey on Saturday cancelled a planned visit by the Swedish defense minister over the demonstration. Turkish officials also condemned the permission granted to Rasmus Paludan, a right-wing Swedish-Danish politician, to stage a protest Saturday in front of its embassy in the Swedish capital.
After a diatribe of almost an hour in which he attacked Islam and immigration in Sweden, Paludan set fire to the Koran with a lighter.
“If you don’t think there should be freedom of expression, you have to live somewhere else,” he told the crowd.
In Sweden, freedom of expression is guaranteed by the constitution and gives people extensive rights to express their views publicly, though incitement to violence or hate speech is not allowed.
Last year, Paludan’s announcement of a Koran-burning “tour” during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan sparked riots across Sweden.
Turkey had already summoned Sweden’s ambassador to Ankara on Saturday to “condemn this provocative action which is clearly a hate crime — in strongest terms,” a diplomatic source said. It also urged Sweden to take necessary actions against the perpetrators and invited all countries to take concrete steps against Islamophobia.
Turkish officials took to Twitter Saturday to condemn anti-Islam activist Rasmus Paludan’s plans to burn the Quran. Ibrahim Kalin, the spokesman for Turkey’s president, called it a hateful crime against humanity.
Ruling party spokesman Omer Celik accused Swedish authorities of protecting hate crimes. Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu told journalists that attacking the Quran cannot be considered freedom of expression and said he hoped Swedish authorities would cancel the permit for the protest.
Who is Rasmus Paludan?
Rasmus Paludan is a far-right extremist and Danish-Swedish politician who heads Denmark’s far-right Stram Kurs (Hard Line) party.
He has held several events where the Quran was burned, leading to counter-protests marked by violence and burning of cars. Last week, he burnt the effigy of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Stockholm.
In the permit he obtained from police, it says his protest was held against Islam and what it called Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan’s attempt to influence freedom of expression in Sweden.
Last year in April during Ramzan, the holy month for Muslims, Paludan announced he will go on a “Quran burning tour” and started burning the holy book in places where the predominant populations are Muslims.
Condemnation poured in from the Muslim world.
The Organization of Islamic Cooperation bloc said the “provocative action… targets Muslims, insults their sacred values, and serves as further example of the alarming level reached by Islamophobia” and asked Sweden to punish those behind a “hate crime”.
Saudi Arabia underscored “the importance of spreading the values of dialogue, tolerance and coexistence and rejecting hatred and extremism”.
The United Arab Emirates said it was against “all practices aimed at destabilising security and stability in contravention of human and moral values and principles”.
The Gulf Cooperation Council also condemned the protest.
Swedish Foreign Minister Tobias Billstrom said: “Islamophobic provocations are appalling”.
“Sweden has a far-reaching freedom of expression, but it does not imply that the Swedish government, or myself, support the opinions expressed.”
Paludan’s protest was held under heavy police protection with around 100 people — including a large number of reporters — gathered near the Turkish embassy in Stockholm.
President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s top press aide, Fahrettin Altun, urged Sweden to “immediately act” against hatred-filled provocations.
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