Muslim-majority nations express outrage, plan street protests against Quran desecration in Sweden

BAGHDAD (AP) — Muslim-majority nations expressed outrage Friday over the desecration of a copy of the Koran in Sweden. Some prepared for street protests after midday prayers to show their anger.

Protesters in Iran, Iraq and Lebanon have planned demonstrations after Swedish police cleared a protest on Thursday in which an Iraqi Christian living in Stockholm kicked and stood on a Koran, Islam’s holy book, outside the Iraqi embassy. Hours earlier, protesters in Baghdad stormed into the Swedish embassy and lit a fire to show their anger at his threats to burn the book.

Iraqi Prime Minister Shia al-Sudani ordered the expulsion of the Swedish ambassador from Iraq and the withdrawal of the Iraqi charge d’affaires from Sweden. But that may not be enough to calm those who are angry, and another protest in Baghdad is scheduled for Friday afternoon.

In neighboring Iran, protesters were also planning to take to the streets. Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian wrote a letter to the UN Secretary General about the Quran desecration and summoned the Swedish Ambassador.

“We consider the Swedish government to be responsible for the outcome of the provocative reactions of Muslims around the world,” Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Nasser Kanaani said.

The man in Stockholm also wiped his feet with a photo of Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei during his protest and did the same with a photo of Iraqi Shia cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, a powerful leader there.

The Lebanese Shia militant group Hezbollah also called for a demonstration on Friday afternoon. Khamenei and the Iranian theocracy are the main sponsors of Hezbollah.

In Pakistan, Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif strongly condemned the events in Sweden. He called on the 57 nations of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation to play a “historic role in expressing the feelings of Muslims and stopping this demonization”. Meanwhile, Islamists in his country are pushing Sharif, who faces an upcoming election, to cut diplomatic ties with Sweden.

On Thursday morning, protesters in Baghdad occupied the Swedish embassy for several hours and started a small fire there. The embassy staff had been evacuated the day before. After protesters left the embassy, ​​diplomats closed it to visitors without specifying when it would reopen.

Prime Minister Sudani said in a statement that Iraqi authorities would prosecute those responsible for the fire and referred to an investigation into “negligent security officers”. Some protesters remained at the site, ignored by police, after the attack. An Associated Press photographer and two Reuters staff were arrested while covering the protest and released several hours later without charge.

This is the second Quran desecration to implicate the Iraqi Christian in Sweden, identified as Salwan Momika. Last month, a man identified by local media and on his social media as Momika burned a Quran outside a Stockholm mosque during the major Muslim holiday of Eid al-Adha, sparking widespread condemnation across the Islamic world.

The right to organize public demonstrations is protected by the Swedish constitution. Blasphemy laws were dropped in the 1970s. Police generally grant permission based on whether they believe a public assembly can take place without major disruption or security risks.

For Muslims, burning the Koran represents a desecration of the sacred text of their religion. Quran burnings in the past have sparked protests across the Muslim world, with some turning violent. In Afghanistan, the Taliban suspended all activities of Swedish organizations in the country in response to the recent Quran burning.

A similar protest by a far-right activist took place outside the Turkish embassy earlier this year, complicating Sweden’s efforts to persuade Turkey to let it join NATO.

In June, protesters supporting al-Sadr stormed the Swedish embassy in Baghdad over the burning of the Koran.


Associated Press writers Jon Gambrell in Dubai, United Arab Emirates; Abby Sewell in Beirut; Nasser Karimi in Tehran, Iran; and Munir Ahmed in Islamabad contributed to this report.

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