Turkey has blamed Sweden after protests outside the Turkish embassy in Stockholm, including the burning of the Quran by far-right supporters and another demonstration by Kurdish activists.
Turkey said on Saturday it was canceling a visit by the Swedish defense minister aimed at overcoming Turkish opposition to NATO membership. Sweden needs Turkey’s help to gain entry into the military alliance amid growing unrest in Europe following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
The burning of the Quran was carried out by Rasmus Pardan, leader of the far-right Danish party Hardline. Last April, Paldan’s announcement of a “tour” to burn the Qur’an during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan sparked riots across Sweden.
Surrounded by police, Pardhan set fire to the scriptures with a lighter after nearly an hour-long denunciation of attacking Muslims and Swedish immigrants. About 100 people gathered nearby for a peaceful counter-demonstration.
“If you think you shouldn’t have freedom of expression, you have to live somewhere else,” he said.
The Turkish Ministry of Foreign Affairs immediately issued a statement.
“We condemn in the strongest possible terms this vile attack on our scriptures … this anti-Islamic campaign that targets Muslims and insults our sacred values under the guise of freedom of expression. It is completely unacceptable to allow the conduct,” the ministry said.
Several Arab countries, including Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Kuwait, have also condemned the burning of the Quran.
“Saudi Arabia seeks to spread the values of dialogue, tolerance and coexistence, and rejects hatred and extremism,” the Saudi Ministry of Foreign Affairs said in a statement.
‘Clear hate crimes’
Swedish Foreign Minister Tobias Birstrom said the Islamophobic provocations were appalling.
Birstrom tweeted: “Sweden has broad freedom of expression, but that does not mean that the Swedish government or myself endorse the views expressed.
Another protest was held in the city in support of the Kurds and against Sweden’s participation in NATO.Pro-Turkish demonstrators also held a rally outside the embassy. All three events had police clearance.
Turkey has previously been angered by Sweden’s green light for a protest in front of its embassy amid ongoing tensions following Turkey’s opposition to Sweden’s proposal to join the NATO military alliance.
Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar has accused the Swedish government of not taking action against “disgusting” anti-Turkish protests in his country.
A spokesman for the Turkish president, Ibrahim Kalin, has denounced the demonstration as a “clear crime of hate”.
“To allow this action despite all warnings is to promote hate crimes and Islamophobia,” he tweeted. “Attacking sacred values is not freedom, it is modern barbarism.”
Swedish Foreign Minister Tobias Birstrom told the TT news agency on Friday that Sweden respects free speech.
Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavsoglu said he hoped Swedish authorities would not allow the protests.
“Despite all our warnings, this permission has been granted to this person. We hope that the Swedish authorities will take the necessary steps and not allow this,” Cavshogl told reporters. He added that the protest could not be classified as freedom of expression.
Billström didn’t want to speculate about how Paludan’s protests might affect Sweden’s NATO bid, but said, “Anything that unnecessarily prolongs the process is something we, of course, take very seriously. That’s it,” he said.
Turkey summoned the Swedish ambassador on Friday to condemn the protests and rallies by pro-Kurdish groups linked to the Kurdish Workers’ Party (PKK) following a Turkish veto signed between Turkey, Sweden and Finland. said it would violate a joint memorandum of understanding to prevent Nordic countries join NATO in June.
Sweden and neighboring Finland last year applied to join the Western Defense Alliance in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, ending decades of military non-alignment.
Turkey has so far refused to approve a bid that requires the approval of all member states, with its yes votes accused by Turkey of being involved in acts of terrorism or an attempted coup against President Recep Tayyip in 2016. It is tied to Sweden’s measures to extradite people who Erdogan.
Turkey claims Sweden has not done enough to crack down on Kurdish groups that the Turkish government considers “terrorists”.
Sweden’s ambassador to Turkey was subpoenaed last week after a video posted by a Kurdish group in Stockholm showed a statue of President Erdogan swinging his legs from a rope.