The protest erupted in response to the burning of the Koran in Stockholm
Protesters set a Swedish flag ablaze in Istanbul on Saturday in response to the public burning of a copy of the Koran by an anti-Islam activist near the Turkish Embassy in Stockholm. The incident took place amid a diplomatic spat between Türkiye and Sweden that may have repercussions for the Nordic country's bid to join the NATO military bloc.
The burning of the Koran was carried out by Rasmus Paludan, the leader of a small Danish far-right party called Steam Kurs (Hard Line). Police maintained security as the activist set fire to the book. Those who gathered outside Sweden's consulate in Istanbul later on the same day were outraged that the Swedish police had permitted the Muslim holy book to be burned.
Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu branded the burning of the Koran a "hate crime" and urged the Swedish authorities to stop Paludan. Swedish officials condemned the incident but maintained that the activist's actions were consistent with the laws that protect free speech.
"The burning of books that are sacred to many is a deeply disrespectful act," Swedish Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson said, extending sympathy to Muslims. "Freedom of expression is a fundamental part of democracy. But what is legal is not necessarily appropriate."
Ankara has been accusing Sweden and its neighbor Finland of failing to fulfill a deal reached in 2022 under which NATO member Türkiye agreed not to veto the Nordic states' accession to the alliance. Sweden, meanwhile, promised to address Ankara's requests to extradite people suspected of links to Kurdish groups that Türkiye views as terrorist organizations.
On Saturday, Türkiye canceled the visit of Swedish Defense Minister Pal Jonson that was planned for January 27. The move came after activists held an anti-Turkish protest in Stockholm this month, during which an effigy of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan was hung upside down on a lamp post. The Kurdish Democratic Society Center led another demonstration on Saturday, which involved activists stomping on a banner with a photo of Erdogan.