Turkey has condemned a demonstration involving the burning of Qur’ans in Sweden on Saturday, further inflaming tensions between the two countries amid Stockholm’s Nato bid.
The protest in Stockholm, which took place under heavy police protection in front of Turkey’s embassy, gathered about 100 people and a crowd of reporters, Agence France-Presse reported.
Far-right politician Rasmus Paludan, who staged the event, gave an hour-long speech against Islam and immigration before setting fire to a copy of the Qur’an.
A day prior, Turkey’s foreign ministry summoned Sweden’s ambassador over the permission granted to Paludan’s protest. It was the second time Sweden’s ambassador to Turkey has been summoned this month, after having had to answer for a 12 January stunt during which a Kurdish group hung an effigy of Turkey’s president, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, in Stockholm.
Earlier on Saturday, Ankara cancelled a 27 January visit by Sweden’s defence minister, Pål Jonson, intended to be a discussion about Turkey’s refusal to ratify Sweden’s Nato accession.
Turkey’s defence minister, Hulusi Akar, said the meeting was cancelled because it “has lost its significance and meaning”.
Jonson, however, announced the meeting had been postponed after talks with Akar on Friday at the US military base in Ramstein, Germany.
“Our relations with Türkiye are very important to Sweden, and we look forward to continuing the dialogue on common security and defence issues at a later date,” he tweeted on Saturday.
Prior to Paludan’s event on Saturday, Turkey’s foreign minister, Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu, called it a “hate crime” that could not be characterised as freedom of expression, and asked Sweden not to allow the “vile act” to take place.
The Stockholm protest was also denounced by İbrahim Kalın, chief adviser to Erdoğan.
“The burning of the Holy Qur’an in Stockholm is a clear crime of hatred and humanity,” Kalın tweeted. “We vehemently condemn this. Allowing this action despite all our warnings is encouraging hate crimes and Islamophobia. The attack on sacred values is not freedom but modern barbarism.”
Sweden’s government has sought to distance itself from the demonstration, with the foreign minister, Tobias Billström, condemning it on Saturday.
“Islamophobic provocations are appalling,” Billström tweeted. “Sweden has a far-reaching freedom of expression, but it does not imply that the Swedish government, or myself, support the opinions expressed.”
Turkey has proved to be an obstacle to Sweden and Finland’s historic application for Nato membership after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, which marked a reversal of the Nordic countries’ decades of neutrality. Sweden and Finland have gained the approval of 28 Nato members so far, bar Hungary and Turkey.
In November, Hungary’s president, Viktor Orbán, said his parliament would ratify Nato membership for Sweden and Finland in early 2023. But Turkey is still holding back, demanding the extradition of people in Sweden it claims to have links to the Kurdistan Workers’ party (PKK) – designated as a terrorist group by Turkey, the EU and the US – or to banned cleric Fethullah Gülen.