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.
Riots erupted in Malmö in April last year after Paludan visited 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 was arrested.
An effigy of Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan which provoked a strong response in Turkey
Far-right activist Rasmus Paludan burns a Koran during an election meeting in May 2022
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.
The burning of the Koran to spite a Muslim-majority country is expected to provoke strong reactions in Turkey.
In April last year, 40 were wounded during riots in Sweden after a rally led by Paludan, which received permission to go ahead from police, saw clashes with counter-protestors.
Four police cars were set on fire and at least five were injured as protestors threw rocks and attacked police cordons.
Paludan led the rally in Sweden to gather support ahead of elections in September 2022, planning to burn the Koran during the holy month of Ramadan.
Rasmus Paludan pictured burning a Koran during an election meeting in Stockholm, May 2022
A bus burns as a police officer watches on after riots overnight in Malmo, in the south of Sweden, sparked by an anti-Islam Danish politician carrying out Koran-burning stunts
Cars burn on the streets of Malmo, in 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 centre 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 as ‘Hard Line’, in Denmark in 2017.
The lawyer and YouTuber is known for burning the Koran and for calling for the deportation of all Muslims from Denmark.
Paludan previously said: ‘The enemy is Islam and Muslims. The best thing would be if there were not a single Muslim left on this earth. Then we would have reached our final goal.’
Stram Kurs has gained some traction in Denmark as the country’s traditional nationalist party, the Danish People’s Party, has lost ground.
Paludan burning a Koran during an election meeting in Husby, Stockholm, in May 2022
Protestors and counter-protestors 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 miles to the north of Malmo (pictured), after similar rioting took place there