Swedish PM 'extremely worried' about further Quran-burning protests

New requests have been filed with police for permission to hold protests in which desecrations of holy book planned

Protests in Sweden and Denmark during which Qurans have been damaged have offended many Muslims. EPA
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Amid rising Muslim anger over a series of Quran desecrations, Sweden's Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson said on Thursday he was “extremely worried” about the consequences if more demonstrations go ahead.

Protests in Sweden and Denmark during which Qurans have been damaged have offended many Muslim countries including Turkey, whose backing Sweden needs to join Nato. Stockholm applied to join the organisation following Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

Further requests have been filed with police for permission to hold protests in which the desecration of the Quran is planned, Mr Kristersson told Swedish news agency TT.

“If they are granted, we are going to face some days where there is a clear risk of something serious happening. I am extremely worried about what it could lead to,” he said.

Sweden's embassy in Baghdad was stormed and set ablaze on July 20 by protesters angered by a planned Quran burning.

Mr Kristersson said the decision to grant permission for the demonstrations was up to the police.

Sweden's security service, Sapo, has kept its assessment of the threat level at 3 on a scale of 5, signifying an “elevated threat” during the crisis, but its head said there had been a strong reaction to recent events.

Denmark and Sweden have said they deplore the burning of the Quran but cannot prevent it under rules protecting free speech.

Protests in region against desecration of Quran in Sweden – in pictures

Sweden has accused other countries – such as Russia – of manipulating the crisis to damage its interests and its bid to join Nato.

“In some countries there is a perception that the Swedish state is behind or condone this. We don't,” Swedish Foreign Minister Tobias Billstrom told reporters on Thursday.

“These are acts committed by individuals, but they do it within the framework of freedom of speech laws.”

Mr Billstrom said he had been in touch with the foreign ministers of Iran, Iraq, Algeria and Lebanon among others as well as the UN Secretary General about the current crisis.

“And just now, I will speak to the secretary general for the Organisation of Islamic Countries,” Mr Billstrom said.

“We will discuss these issues and it's important to stress that this is a long-term issue, there are no quick fixes.”

The government is facing a difficult balancing act in defending far-reaching freedom of speech laws, while at the same time avoiding potential insult to Muslims.

Its position is not made easier by the anti-immigration Sweden Democrats, whose support keeps the right-of-centre coalition in power, though the party is not formally part of the government.

Members of Sweden Democrats, the biggest party on the right, have repeatedly warned about the “Islamisation” of Swedish society and called for immigrants to adopt “Swedish” values.

Updated: July 27, 2023, 10:53 PM