Turkey denounced Sweden after protests in front of its embassy in Stockholm, including the burning of a Quran by far-right supporters and a separate demonstration by Kurdish activists.
Ankara said on Saturday it was canceling a visit by Sweden’s defense minister to allay Turkey’s objections to its NATO membership. Sweden needs Turkey’s support to gain access to the military alliance as fears rise in Europe following the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
The Quran burning was carried out by Rasmus Paludan, leader of the Danish far-right political party Hard Line. Last April, Paludan’s announcement of a Quran-burning “tour” during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan sparked riots across Sweden.
Surrounded by police, Paludan set fire to the holy book with a lighter after a long rant of nearly an hour attacking Islam and immigration in Sweden. About 100 people gathered nearby for a peaceful counter-demonstration.
“If you think there should be no freedom of speech, you should live somewhere else,” he said.
The Turkish Foreign Ministry immediately responded in a statement.
“We condemn in the strongest possible terms the vicious attack on our holy book… Allowing this anti-Islamic act, which targets Muslims and offends our sacred values, under the guise of freedom of expression is completely unacceptable” , the ministry said.
Several Arab countries – including Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Kuwait – have also denounced the Quran burning.
“Saudi Arabia calls for spreading the values of dialogue, tolerance and coexistence, and rejects hate and extremism,” the Saudi foreign ministry said in a statement.
‘Clear crime of hate’
Swedish Foreign Minister Tobias Billstrom called the Islamophobic provocations appalling.
“Sweden has far-reaching freedom of expression, but that does not mean that the Swedish government, or myself, supports the opinions expressed,” Billstrom said on Twitter.
A separate protest took place in the city in support of the Kurds and against Sweden’s bid to join NATO. A group of pro-Turkish protesters also held a rally outside the embassy. All three events had police permits.
Turkey was previously angered by Sweden’s green light for the protest in front of its embassy amid ongoing tensions following Ankara’s objections to Sweden’s bid to join NATO’s military alliance.
Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar denounced the Swedish government for not taking action against “disgusting” anti-Turkish protests on its territory.
Turkish presidential spokesman Ibrahim Kalin condemned the demonstration as a “clear crime of hate”.
“Allowing this action, despite all our warnings, encourages hate crimes and Islamophobia,” he tweeted. “The attack on sacred values is not freedom but modern barbarism.”
Swedish Foreign Minister Tobias Billström told TT news agency on Friday that Sweden respects freedom of expression.
Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said he hoped Swedish authorities would not allow the protest.
“This permission has been granted to this person despite all our warnings. I hope that the Swedish authorities will take the necessary measures and not allow this,” Cavusoglu told reporters, adding that the protest cannot be classified as freedom of expression.
Billström would not speculate on the impact of Paludan’s protest on Sweden’s bid for NATO, but noted that “anything that unnecessarily prolongs the process is, of course, something we take very seriously”.
Turkey on Friday summoned the Swedish ambassador to condemn the protests, saying gatherings of pro-Kurdish groups linked to the Kurdish Workers’ Party (PKK) would be a violation of the joint memorandum signed between Turkey, Sweden and Finland that prevented a Turkish veto for the accession of the Nordic countries to NATO in June.
Sweden and neighboring Finland shed decades of military nonalignment last year when they signed up to join the Western Defense Alliance in response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Turkey has so far refused to approve their bids, which must be signed by all member states, and linked its favorable vote to Swedish moves to extradite people it accuses of terrorism or playing a role in the 2016 coup attempt against Turkey. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
Turkey argues that Sweden is not doing enough to deal with Kurdish groups that Ankara considers “terrorists”.
Sweden’s ambassador to Turkey was summoned last week after a video posted by a Kurdish group in Stockholm showed an effigy of Erdogan swinging by his legs on a rope.