More desecrations of the Holy Quran took place in Sweden and Denmark on Monday as the governments of the two Nordic countries said they were examining ways to legally limit such acts in a bid to de-escalate growing tensions with several Muslim countries.

Denmark and Sweden have seen several protests in recent weeks where copies of the Holy Quran have been burned, or otherwise damaged, prompting outrage in Muslim countries, which have demanded the Nordic governments put a stop to the burnings.

The Danish government said on Sunday it would seek to find a “legal tool” that could enable authorities to intervene in such protests, if deemed to entail “significant negative consequences for Denmark, not least with regard to security”.

“The fact that we are signalling both in Denmark and abroad that we are working on it will hopefully help de-escalate the problems we are facing,” Danish Foreign Minister Lars Lokke Rasmussen told journalists following a meeting with foreign policy speakers of parliament on Monday.

“It is not because we feel pressured to do so, but it is our political analysis that it is in the best interest of all of us,” Rasmussen said, adding: “We shouldn’t just sit and wait for this to explode.”

Even so, Quran burnings took place in both countries on Monday. In Stockholm, an Iraqi refugee behind several protests in recent weeks appeared to burn a copy outside the Swedish parliament.

Salwan Momika and Salwan Najem stomped on the holy book and set its pages ablaze before slamming it shut, as they did at a protest outside Stockholm’s main mosque in June — sparking outrage across the Middle East.

The duo also staged a similar protest outside Iraq’s embassy in Stockholm on July 20, where they stomped on the religious text but did not burn it.

Swedish police granted a permit for the protest by campaigners hoping to see the Holy Quran banned in the country.

“I want to protest in front in front of Sweden’s parliament and demand that the Quran be banned,” organiser Najem wrote in the application, which has been viewed by AFP, adding that he would “burn the Quran there.”

As at earlier protests, Momika and Najem were the only participants, with a small group of counter-protesters gathering outside the police cordon, according to an AFP reporter at the scene.

Around a dozen counter-protesters held up copies of the Quran, with some waving Iraqi flags, and shouted at Momika, who just as at earlier events wore sunglasses and grinned defiantly while taunting them.

Mats Eriksson, a spokesman for Stockholm police, told AFP that the event “had been conducted without any serious public order disturbances”.

During the protest, Momika also stomped on a picture of Shia Muslim cleric and political leader Moqtada Sadr — whose followers had stormed Sweden’s embassy in Baghdad in response to previous desecrations. They had started fires within the compound the night before the July protest.

The Iraqi prime minister and the president “vehemently condemned the repeated acts of desecration” of the Quran.

They called on the countries where the attacks took place to take a “firmer position and put an end to these criminal practices”.

In Denmark, anti-Muslim protesters burned the Holy Quran outside the Saudi Arabian embassy in Copenhagen, with several more planned for later in the day.

The Nordic countries have deplored the burnings but cannot prevent them under constitutional laws protecting freedom of speech.

However, both governments have now said they are considering legal changes that would allow authorities to prevent further burnings in special situations.

The Swedish government said this month it is examining a similar solution but right-wing parties in both countries have denounced the initiatives, with some saying freedom of speech cannot be compromised.

‘All for attention’

“We saw him standing there again and yelling stuff about the Quran and about Islam, playing with the Quran, and honestly it’s all for attention and it’s pretty obvious,” Tamazight El Yaakoubi, an 18-year-old law student from the Netherlands, told AFP.

“Before we came here we were pretty scared, we were like, ‘Quran burned down, why?’” added the Muslim visitor.

“But when we came here almost everyone is full of love and everyone is very respectful.”

Sweden has already seen its diplomatic relations with several Middle Eastern nations strained over previous protests involving Quran desecrations.

Swedish police have previously stressed they only grant permits for people to hold public gatherings and not for the activities conducted during the events.

Both previous protests have led to widespread outrage and condemnations.

The OIC on Monday met to address the desecrations and voiced “disappointment” with Sweden and Denmark’s response.

Secretary-general Hissein Brahim Taha called on both countries to prevent Quran desecration and “expressed his disappointment that no measures were taken in this regard so far”, the 57-member, Jeddah-based body said.

“It is unfortunate that the concerned authorities claiming freedom of expression continue to provide licences to repeat these acts contrary to international law, and this leads to a lack of respect for religions,” Taha said.

Before the meeting, Swedish Foreign Minister Tobias Billstrom said he had been in contact with several of his counterparts among member states and sent a letter to all members.

In a statement, Billstrom said he had informed them about the process for granting permits for public gatherings in Sweden and that police made such decisions independently.

Billstrom said he had stressed, “the Swedish Government has been very clear in its rejection of the Islamophobic acts carried out by individuals at demonstrations in Sweden”.

Tensions flare

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, whose support is crucial for Sweden’s bid to join the Nato defence alliance, has expressed deep anger at the burnings.

The Nordic country abandoned centuries of military non-alignment and decided to apply for Nato membership in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Last week, Sweden ordered 15 government bodies, including the armed forces, several law enforcement agencies and the tax office, to strengthen anti-terrorism efforts.

On Sunday, Denmark said it would explore legal means of stopping protests involving burning holy texts, citing security concerns following a backlash over the desecrations.

Swedish Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson said a similar process was already under way, while noting his country was in “the most serious security situation since World War II.”

“Here at home we know that states, state-like actors and individuals can take advantage of the situation,” Kristersson said in a post to Instagram.

Swedish and Danish envoys have been summoned in a slew of Middle Eastern nations.



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