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Sweden: Middle East leaders condemn far-right plan to burn Quran amid violent riots

Saudi Arabia says plan a 'deliberate abuse of the holy Quran by some extremists in Sweden,' while Egypt's al-Azhar denounces 'disgraceful act'
An anti-riot police officer watches a city bus burning in Malmo on 16 April 2022 (AFP)
An anti-riot police officer stands next to a city bus burning in Malmo on 16 April 2022 (AFP)

Several cities in Sweden have been engulfed by riots relating to a planned rally by right-wing groups on Sunday at which they wanted to burn copies of the Quran during the holy month of Ramadan.

Riots have been going on in Norrkoping and Linkoping, the Stockholm suburb of Rinkeby and Orebro, a city in western Sweden. There was also a riot in the southern city of Malmo on Saturday, where a bus caught on fire. Protesters have been burning cars and destroying public goods in a violent reaction to the planned far-right rally.

More than 26 people have been arrested and dozens more have been injured, according to local police, who fired warning shots into a crowd of rioters in Norrkoping on Sunday.

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"Three people seem to have been hit by ricochets and are now being cared for in hospital," police representatives said about Norrkoping.

The rally was organised by far-right politician Rasmus Paludan, who leads the right-wing Hard Line party. Paludan cancelled his Sunday rally after local police told him they would not be able to ensure safety. The politician has previously burned copies of the Quran.

He has not hidden his grievances against the estimated 8 percent Muslim community in Sweden, many coming from Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan.

Swedish national police chief Anders Thornberg said on Monday that rioters had "tried to kill police officers" and that "criminals have profited from the situation to show violence toward society, without any link to the demonstrations".

"There are too few of us. We have grown, but we have not grown at the same pace as the problems at the heart of society," he said, calling for more resources for the police, according to AFP. 

Paludan, who also holds Danish citizenship, ran for Danish elections in 2019 but failed to win a seat after winning only 1.8 percent of the vote. A year later he was jailed in Denmark for offences that included racism. He now plans to run in Sweden's elections in the autumn, but he reportedly does not have enough signatures to sign up for them.

Denounced in the Middle East

Across the Middle East, leaders have been condemning Paludan's rally plans, with Saudi Arabia's foreign ministry saying it was a "deliberate abuse of the holy Quran by some extremists in Sweden, and provocation and incitement against Muslims".

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Iraq summoned Sweden’s top envoy in Baghdad to protest against the attempted desecration of the Quran, with Iran doing the same with the Swedish representative in the country while a protest was organised outside the Swedish embassy in Tehran. Jordan and Qatar also denounced the plans to burn Islam's holy book.

Egypt's al-Azhar university declared its "deep dissatisfaction and strong condemnation" of Swedish extremists, calling the attempt to burn the Quran a "disgraceful act despite its violation of all international laws and covenants that stipulate the necessity of a commitment to respecting sanctities".

The Turkish foreign ministry denounced "hesitation to prevent provocative and Islamophobic acts... under the cover of freedom of expression".

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