STOCKHOLM, Jan 21 (Reuters) – Demonstrations in Stockholm on Saturday against Turkey and Sweden’s bid to join NATO, including burning copies of the Koran, sharply escalated tensions with Turkey at a time when the Nordic country needs Ankara’s support. to the military alliance.
“We strongly condemn the despicable attack on our holy book… It is completely unacceptable to allow this anti-Islamic act targeting Muslims and insulting our sacred values under the guise of freedom of expression,” the Turkish Foreign Ministry said. said.
The statement came after an anti-immigration politician from the far-right border burned a copy of the Koran near the Turkish embassy. The Turkish ministry urged Sweden to take necessary measures against the perpetrators and called on all countries to take concrete measures against Islamophobia.
A separate protest was held in the city in support of the Kurds and against Sweden’s bid to join NATO. A group of pro-Turkish demonstrators also held a rally outside the embassy. All three incidents had police clearance.
Swedish Foreign Minister Tobias Billström said the Islamophobic provocations were “horrendous”.
“There is freedom of expression in Sweden, but this does not mean that the Swedish government or I support the views expressed,” Björstrom said on Twitter.
The Koran burning was organized by Rasmus Baluten, leader of Denmark’s far-right political party Hard Line. Baludan, a Swedish citizen, has staged several protests in the past where he burned the Koran.
Balutan could not immediately be reached by email for comment. The permit he received from police said his campaign was against Islam and an attempt by Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan to influence freedom of expression in Sweden.
Many Arab countries including Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Kuwait condemned 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 to join NATO last year following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, but all 30 member states must approve their bid. Turkey has said it must first take a clear stance against Swedish terrorists in particular, mainly Kurdish militias and the group it blames for the 2016 coup attempt.
Speakers stood in front of a large red banner reading “We are all PKK”, referring to the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, which is banned in Turkey, Sweden and the United States, in a demonstration to protest Sweden’s NATO bid and show support for the Kurds. in other countries, and addressed several hundred pro-Kurdish and leftist supporters.
“We will continue our opposition to the Swedish NATO application,” Thomas Petersen, a spokesman for the anti-NATO coalition and one of the organizers of the demonstration, told Reuters.
Police said the situation in all three demonstrations was peaceful.
Defense Minister’s visit cancelled
Earlier on Saturday, Turkey said it had canceled a planned visit to Ankara by the Swedish defense minister due to a lack of measures to contain the protests.
In this situation, Swedish Defense Minister Paul Johnson’s visit to Turkey on January 27 has become meaningless. Therefore, we have canceled the trip,” Defense Minister Hulusi Agar said.
Johnson said separately that he and Agar met on Friday during a meeting of Western allies in Germany and decided to postpone the planned meeting.
Agar said he discussed Sweden’s lack of measures to curb protests against Turkey with Erdogan and briefed Johnson on Ankara’s reaction on the sidelines of a meeting of the Ukraine Security Liaison Committee.
“The lack of action or reaction to these (protests) is unacceptable. Actions should have been taken to do the necessary things,” Agar said, according to a Turkish defense ministry statement.
Turkey’s foreign ministry had already summoned Sweden’s ambassador on Friday over the planned protests.
Finland and Sweden signed a three-way agreement with Turkey in 2022, aimed at overcoming Ankara’s objections to 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 an erroneous reference to Morocco in the ninth column)
Reporting by Omer Berberoglu in Istanbul and Niklas Pollard and Simon Johnson in Stockholm Additional reporting by Moaz Abd-Alazis in Cairo Editing by Eji Erkoyoun and Niklas Pollard Editing by Toby Chopra and Francis Kerry
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