Turkey denounced Sweden after protests outside its embassy in Stockholm, including the burning of a Koran by far-right supporters and a separate demonstration by Kurdish activists.
Ankara said on Saturday it had canceled a visit by the Swedish defense minister aimed at overcoming Turkey’s objections to its NATO membership. Sweden needs Turkey’s support to enter into the military alliance as fears grow in Europe after the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
The Koran was burned by Rasmus Paludan, leader of the Danish far-right Hard Line party. In April last year, Paludan’s announcement of a Quran-burning “tour” during the holy month of Ramadan sparked riots across Sweden.
Paludan set fire to the Bible, surrounded by police, with a lighter after a long sermon that lasted nearly an hour, in which he attacked Islam and immigration in Sweden. About 100 people gathered nearby for a peaceful counter-demonstration.
He said, “If you don’t think there should be freedom of speech, you should live somewhere else.”
The Turkish Foreign Ministry responded immediately in a statement.
“We condemn in the strongest terms the despicable attack on our holy book… Allowing this anti-Islamic act, targeting Muslims and insulting our sacred values, under the cover of freedom of expression, is totally unacceptable,” the ministry said.
Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu expressed his anger at the inaction of the Swedish authorities to ban the protest. “It’s a racist act, and it’s not about freedom of speech,” he said.
Several Arab countries – including Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Kuwait – have also decried 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 Ministry of Foreign Affairs said in a statement.
A small group gathered outside the Swedish embassy in Ankara to protest the burning of the Quran. A protest was also scheduled to take place in Istanbul on Saturday evening.
‘clear hate crime’
Swedish Foreign Minister Tobias Billström described the anti-Islam provocations as “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.
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.
The demonstrators waved the flags of various Kurdish groups, including the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which has been waging a decades-old insurgency against Turkey. The PKK is considered a terrorist group in Turkey, the European Union and the United States, but its symbols are not banned in Sweden.
Turkey was earlier angry at Sweden’s green light to protest in front of its embassy amid ongoing tensions after Ankara’s objections to Sweden’s attempt to join the NATO military alliance.
Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar denounced the Swedish government for failing to take action against the “disgusting” anti-Turkish protests on its soil. Akar said that the visit scheduled for January 27 by his Swedish counterpart Pal Johnson no longer bore “any importance or point”.
A spokesman for the Turkish presidency, Ibrahim Kalin, denounced the demonstration as a “clear hate crime”.
“To allow this measure despite all our warnings is to encourage hate crimes and Islamophobia,” he wrote on Twitter. The attack on sacred values is not freedom but modern barbarism.
Billström told news agency TT on Friday that Sweden respects freedom of expression.
“Extremists and Maniacs”
Carl Bildt, former prime minister of Sweden, told Al Jazeera that there was still progress being made on the issue of Turkey agreeing to Sweden’s accession to NATO despite the tensions.
There are fanatics and lunatics running around trying to sabotage the whole operation. They should not be given [importance] If the authorities in Ankara are really interested in reaching an agreement.
Turkey summoned the Swedish ambassador on Friday to condemn the protests, saying the rallies organized by pro-Kurdish groups linked to the PKK would be in violation of a joint memorandum signed by Turkey, Sweden and Finland that prevented Turkey from vetoing the Nordic countries joining NATO. in June.
Sweden and neighboring Finland abandoned decades of military non-alignment last year when they applied to join the Western defense alliance in response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Turkey has so far refused to agree to its offers, which need approval by all member states, and has linked its positive vote to Swedish moves to extradite people it accuses of being terrorists or playing a role in the 2016 attempted coup against President Recep Tayyip. Erdogan.
Turkey argues that Sweden is not doing enough to crack down on Kurdish groups that Ankara considers “terrorists”.
Sweden’s ambassador to Turkey was recalled last week after a video posted by a Kurdish group in Stockholm depicted a puppet of Erdogan swinging from a rope with his legs.