Sweden | A man burns pages of the Koran in front of a mosque

(Stockholm) A man burned a few pages of a copy of the Koran in front of the largest mosque in Stockholm in a “gathering” authorized by the Swedish police on Wednesday, arousing the ire of Ankara which denounced an “unacceptable” act.

This new incident could darken Sweden’s prospects for NATO membership, which Turkey is blocking.

The event, which coincides with Eid al-Adha, a holiday celebrated by Muslims around the world, brought together around a hundred onlookers and journalists.

Dressed in beige chinos and a light shirt, Salwan Momika, a 37-year-old Iraqi who fled his country for Sweden, trampled on the Koran several times before slipping strips of bacon into it and burn a few pages, according to AFP journalists on the spot.

Turkish Foreign Minister Hakan Fidan immediately condemned the incident on Twitter: “It is unacceptable to allow these anti-Islamic actions under the pretext of freedom of expression.”

The subject is sensitive in the Nordic country. A demonstration in January in which a Koran was burned outside the Turkish embassy in Stockholm had already angered Ankara and the Muslim world, leading to demonstrations and calls for a boycott of Swedish products.

“It’s crazy, it’s absolutely insane, it’s only hatred that hides behind the concepts of democracy and freedom,” reacted Noa Omran, a 32-year-old artist who came to attend the scene.

Earlier in the day, the police had announced to authorize “the gathering”, considering that “the security risks” linked to the burning of the Koran were “not such as to prohibit it”. But at the end of the day, she announced that she was filing a complaint against the organizer, in particular for incitement to hatred.

In his request for prior authorization, the organizer of the book burning, Salwan Momika said he wanted to “express (his) opinion about the Koran”. “I will tear up the Koran and burn it,” he wrote.

Mr. Momika had made a similar request in February, which was refused by the police.

According to an article in the Swedish daily Aftonbladet dated April 5, Mr. Momika assured that his intention with this request was not to make it difficult for Sweden to join the Atlantic Alliance.

“I don’t want to harm this country which has welcomed me and which has preserved my dignity,” he told the newspaper, adding that he wanted to see the Koran banned in Sweden.

Public order disturbances

Stockholm police had refused two rallies in February – including one initiated by Mr Momika – where copies of Islam’s holy book were scheduled to be burned, citing risks of disorder audience.

In the process, the demonstrators had appealed the decision, believing that their constitutional right to demonstrate had been violated.

An administrative court had given them reason at the beginning of April.

In mid-June, the administrative court of appeal confirmed the judgment rendered at first instance, indicating that the security risks put forward by the police “did not have a sufficiently clear link” with the gatherings in question.

It is on this basis that the Swedish police took their decision on Wednesday, just a few days before the Vilnius summit, on July 11 and 12, where Stockholm hopes for progress for its entry into NATO.

Ankara is blocking Sweden’s NATO bid, which requires a unanimous green light from Alliance members, over what it sees as Stockholm’s failure to crack down on Kurdish groups based in Sweden, which she sees as ‘terrorists’.

Talks will bring together representatives of the two countries in Brussels on July 6, Alliance Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg announced on Wednesday.

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