A convicted far-right leader in Sweden has been given permission to burn a copy of the Koran outside the Turkish embassy in Stockholm – as the country fights to convince President Erdogan to let him join NATO.
Rasmus Paludan, 41, has a permit to burn the book outside the building on Saturday January 21, to coincide with two related events planned to protest Turkey.
Danish-Swedish Paludan said he wanted to “mark some freedom of expression” after the hanging of an effigy of Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan near Stockholm City Hall sparked a strong reaction in Turkey. Sweden also condemned the stunt.
Riots broke out in Malmö in April last year after Paludan traveled to Sweden ahead of an election, intending to burn the Koran to drum up support for his movement, and previously in August 2020 when activists burned the Koran after Paludan’s arrest.
An effigy of Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan that sparked a strong reaction in Turkey
Far-right activist Rasmus Paludan burns a Koran during an election rally in May 2022
The decision to allow the cremation of the Koran comes amid strained relations between Sweden and Turkey, following the latter’s decision to postpone Sweden’s NATO membership.
Sweden and Finland have sought NATO membership since the Russian invasion of Ukraine, but their applications must be approved by all 30 NATO member states.
The two Nordic countries are still counting on the votes of Turkey and Hungary, which Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán has promised to deliver in 2023.
But Turkish officials said the effigy hung by pro-Kurdish activists last week was contrary to a previously reached agreement under which Sweden and Finland would crack down on Kurdish activists as the two seek Turkish approval for the membership in NATO.
Sweden is home to a large number of Kurds, many of whom fled Turkish persecution in the late 1980s and subsequent crises in the Middle East.
Turkish Foreign Minister Melvut Cavusoglu said Sweden’s inaction regarding the effigy was “absurd” and that Sweden should not try to deceive Turkey by calling the act “free speech”.
In recent days, the country has increased pressure on Sweden, demanding that 130 so-called “terrorists” be extradited to Turkey before the Turkish parliament approves NATO offers.
The burning of the Koran in spite of a country with a Muslim majority should provoke strong reactions in Turkey.
In April last year, 40 people were injured in riots in Sweden after a rally led by Paludan, who received police permission, saw clashes with counter-protesters.
Four police cars were set on fire and at least five were injured when protesters threw rocks and attacked police cordons.
Paludan led the rally in Sweden to garner support ahead of the September 2022 election, planning to burn the Koran during the holy month of Ramadan.
Rasmus Paludan pictured burning a Koran during an election rally in Stockholm, May 2022
A bus burns as a policeman watches after riots overnight in Malmö, southern Sweden, sparked by an anti-Islam Danish politician performing Quran-burning stunts
Cars burn in the streets of Malmö, southern Sweden, after riots sparked by far-right Danish politician Rasmus Paludan who was on a ‘tour’ of the country in April 2022
Rasmus Paludan has been at the center of anti-Islamic politics in Northern Europe for several years.
He rose to fame with the launch of his far-right party Stram Kurs, which translates to “Hard Line”, in Denmark in 2017.
The lawyer and YouTuber is known for burning the Koran and for calling for the expulsion of all Muslims from Denmark.
Paludan previously said, “The enemy is Islam and Muslims. The best would be that there is no longer a single Muslim on this earth. Then we would have achieved our end goal.
Stram Kurs gained ground in Denmark as the country’s traditional nationalist party, the Danish People’s Party, lost ground.
Paludan burning a Koran during an election rally in Husby, Stockholm, in May 2022
Protesters and counter-protesters clashed in April last year at a Stram Kurs rally in Orebro
Dozens of people were also arrested in the towns of Norrkoping and Linkoping in April 2022, hundreds of kilometers north of Malmö (pictured), after similar riots took place there.