Mon, 06 Feb 2023

Stockholm [Sweden], January 22 (ANI): Turkey on Saturday cancelled a planned visit by Sweden's defence minister in response to anti-Turkish protests that increased tension between the two countries as Sweden seeks Turkey's approval to join NATO, reported Washington Post.

Turkish Defence Minister Hulusi Akar said that a planned visit by his Swedish counterpart Pal Jonsonto Ankara has been cancelled after Swedish authorities granted permission for protests in Stockholm.

Notably, a protest in Stockholm erupted on Saturday against Turkey and Sweden's bid to join NATO, including the burning of a copy of the Quran, sharply heightened tensions with Turkey at a time when the Nordic country needs Ankara's backing to gain entry to the military alliance.

Rasmus Paludan, leader of the Danish far-right political party Hard Line carried out the Quran burning. In April last year, Paludan's announcement of a Quran burning "tour" during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan sparked riots across Sweden, reported Al Jazeera.

Surrounded by police, Paludan set fire to the holy book with a lighter following a long diatribe of almost an hour, in which he attacked Islam and immigration in Sweden. About 100 people gathered nearby for a peaceful counter-demonstration.

The Turkish foreign ministry responded immediately in a statement.

"We condemn in the strongest possible terms the vile attack on our holy book ... Permitting this anti-Islam act, which targets Muslims and insults our sacred values, under the guise of freedom of expression is completely unacceptable," the Turkish Foreign Ministry said.

The Turkish ministry urged Sweden to take necessary actions against the perpetrators and invited all countries to take concrete steps against Islamophobia, reported CNN.

A separate protest took place in the city supporting Kurds and against Sweden's bid to join NATO. A group of pro-Turkish demonstrators also held a rally outside the embassy. All three events had police permits.

Swedish Foreign Minister Tobias Billstrom said that Islamophobic provocations were appalling, reported CNN.

"Sweden has a far-reaching freedom of expression, but it does not imply that the Swedish Government, or myself, support the opinions expressed," Billstrom said on Twitter.

Several Arab countries including Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Kuwait denounced the Quran burning. "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.

At the demonstration to protest Sweden's NATO bid and to show support for Kurds, speakers stood in front of a large red banner reading "We are all PKK", referring to the Kurdistan Workers Party that is outlawed in Turkey, Sweden, and the United States among other countries, and addressed several hundred pro-Kurdish and left-wing supporters.

Sweden and Finland applied last year to join NATO following Russia's invasion of Ukraine but all 30 member states must approve their bids. Turkey has said Sweden in particular must first take a clearer stance against what it sees as terrorists, mainly Kurdish militants and a group it blames for a 2016 coup attempt. (ANI)

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