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Koran set alight at protest outside Sweden parliament

Two men set the Koran alight outside parliament in Stockholm on Monday, an AFP reporter saw, at a protest similar to previous ones that have sparked tensions between Sweden and Middle Eastern countries.

Demonstrators march in a rally denouncing the burning of the Koran, Islam’s holy book, in Sweden in Yemen’s Huthi-held capital Sanaa on July 24, 2023. (Photo by MOHAMMED HUWAIS / AFP)

Two men set the Koran alight outside parliament in Stockholm on Monday, an AFP reporter saw, at a protest similar to previous ones that have sparked tensions between Sweden and Middle Eastern countries.

Salwan Momika and Salwan Najem stomped the Muslim holy book, set its pages ablaze before slamming it shut, as they did at a protest outside Stockholm’s main mosque in June — sparking outrage across the Middle East.

The duo also staged a similar protest outside Iraq’s embassy in Stockholm on July 20, where they stomped on the religious text but did not burn it.

Swedish police granted a permit for the protest by campaigners hoping to see the Koran banned in the country, according to local media.

“I will burn it many times, until you ban it,” organiser Salwan Najem told Expressen newspaper.

As at earlier protests, Momika and Najem were the only participants, with a small group of counter-protesters gathering outside the police cordon, according to an AFP reporter at the scene.

Mats Eriksson, a spokesman for the Stockholm police told AFP that the event “had been conducted without any serious public order disturbances”.

During the protest Momika also stomped on a picture of Shiite Muslim cleric and political leader Moqtada Sadr — whose followers had stormed Sweden’s embassy in Baghdad in response to previous desecrations. They had started fires within the compound the night before the July protest.

– ‘All for attention’ –
“We saw him standing there again and yelling stuff about the Koran and about Islam, playing with the Koran, and honestly it’s all for attention and it’s pretty obvious,” Tamazight El Yaakoubi, an 18-year-old law student from the Netherlands, told AFP.

“Before we came here we were pretty scared, we were like, Koran burned down, why?” added the Muslim visitor.

“But when we came here almost everyone is full of love and everyone is very respectful.”

Sweden has already seen its diplomatic relations with several Middle Eastern nations strained over previous protests involving Koran desecrations.

Swedish police have previously stressed they only grant permits for people to hold public gatherings and not for the activities conducted during the events.

Both previous protests have led to widespread outrage and condemnations.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, whose support is crucial for Sweden’s candidacy to join the NATO defence alliance, has expressed deep anger at the Koran burnings.

– Tensions flare –
Last week, Sweden ordered 15 government bodies including the armed forces, several law enforcement agencies and the tax office to strengthen anti-terrorism efforts.

On Sunday, neighbouring Denmark said it would explore legal means of stopping protests involving the burning of holy texts, citing security concerns following a backlash over incidents that saw the Koran desecrated in the country.

Swedish Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson said a similar process was already under way, while noting his country was in “the most serious security situation since World War II.”

“Here at home we know that states, state-like actors and individuals can take advantage of the situation,” Kristersson said in a post to Instagram.

Swedish and Danish envoys have been summoned in a slew of Middle Eastern nations.

Saudi Arabia and Iraq have called for a meeting, expected to be held on Monday, of the Jeddah-based Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) to address Koran desecrations in both Sweden and Denmark.

Swedish Foreign Minister Tobias Billstrom said Monday that he had been in contact with several of his counterparts among the 57 member states of the organisation ahead of the meeting and sent a letter to all members.

In a statement, Billstrom said that he had informed them about the process for granting permits for public gatherings in Sweden and that police made such decisions independently.

Billstrom added that he had also reiterated that “the Swedish Government has been very clear in its rejection of the Islamophobic acts carried out by individuals at demonstrations in Sweden”.