A convicted far-right leader in Sweden has received permission to burn a copy of the Koran outside the Turkish embassy in Stockholm – as the country battles to convince President Erdogan to let it join NATO.
Rasmus Paludan, 41, has a permit to burn the book in front of the building on Saturday 21 January, to coincide with two related demonstrations planned in protest of Turkey.
Danish-Swedish Paludan said he wants to ‘mark some freedom of speech’ after the hanging of an effigy of Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan near the Stockholm city hall provoked a strong response in Turkey. Sweden also condemned the stunt.
The decision to allow the burning of the Koran comes amid strained relations between Sweden and Turkey, following the latter’s decision to push back on Swedish ascension to NATO.
Sweden and Finland have sought NATO membership since the Russian invasion of Ukraine, but their bids must be approved by all 30 NATO member states.
The two Nordic countries still rely on votes from Turkey and Hungary, which Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán has promised to deliver in 2023.
But Turkish officials said the effigy hanging by pro-Kurdish activists last week was contrary to an agreement made previously under which Sweden and Finland would crack down on Kurdish militants as both seek Turkish approval for NATO membership.
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 that Swedish inaction over the effigy was ‘absurd’ and that Sweden should not try to fool Turkey by calling the act ‘freedom of speech’.
In recent days, the country has increased the pressure on Sweden, demanding 130 so-called ‘terrorists’ be extradited to Turkey before the Turkish parliament will approve NATO bids.