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Protests against burning of Koran held across Middle East

The protests were in response to the recent desecration of Islam’s holy book by far-right activists in Sweden and the Netherlands.

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Supporters of Jamaat-e-Islami chant slogans during a protest in Peshawar, Pakistan, against the burning of the Koran, a Muslim holy book, by a Danish anti-islam activist

Protests have been held in several predominantly Muslim countries to denounce the recent desecration of Islam’s holy book by far-right activists in Sweden and the Netherlands.

The protests in countries including Pakistan, Iraq, Iran and Lebanon ended with people dispersing peacefully.

In Pakistan’s capital Islamabad, police stopped some demonstrators trying to march towards the Swedish embassy.

Scores of angry protesters in Beirut, Lebanon, burn Swedish and Netherlands flags after Friday prayers outside Mohammad al-Amin Mosque to denounce the recent desecration of Islam’s holy book by far-right activists in the European countries
Angry protesters in Beirut burn Swedish and Dutch flags (Hassan Ammar/AP)

About 12,000 Islamists from the Tehreek-e-Labiak Pakistan party rallied in Lahore, the capital of the eastern Punjab province, to denounce the desecration of the Koran in the two European countries.

In his speech to the demonstrators, Saad Rizvi, the head of the TLP, asked the government to lodge a strong protest with Sweden and the Netherlands so that such incidents do not happen again.

Similar rallies were also held in the southern city of Karachi and in the north west.

In the Iranian capital Tehran, hundreds of people marched after Friday prayers during which they burned a Swedish flag.

In Beirut, about 200 angry protesters burned the flags of Sweden and the Netherlands outside the blue-domed Mohammed Al-Amin mosque in central Martyrs Square.

Small protests over the Koran burning also took place in Bahrain.

Denmark Turkey
Rasmus Paludan speaks on a megaphone in front of a mosque in Copenhagen (Olafur Steinar Gestsson/Ritzau Scanpix/AP)

Earlier this month, Rasmus Paludan, a far-right activist from Denmark, received permission from police to stage a protest outside the Turkish embassy in Stockholm where he burned the Koran.

Days later, Edwin Wagensveld, Dutch leader of the far-right Pegida movement in the Netherlands, tore pages out of a copy of the Koran near the Dutch parliament and stamped on them.

The moves angered millions of Muslims around the world and triggered protests.

On Friday, Mr Paludan, who holds Danish and Swedish citizenship, told Swedish newspaper Aftonbladet that he would replicate the protest in front of the Turkish embassy in Copenhagen every Friday until Sweden is admitted into Nato.

Turkey’s state-run Anadolu Agency said the Danish ambassador was summoned to the Turkish Foreign Ministry where officials “strongly condemned the permission given to this provocative act which clearly constitutes a hate crime”.

Swedish officials have stressed that freedom of expression is guaranteed by the Swedish constitution and gives people extensive rights to express their views publicly, though incitement to violence or hate speech is not allowed.

Demonstrators must apply to police for a permit for a public gathering. Police can deny such permits only on exceptional grounds, such as risks to public safety.

Followers of the Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr raise the Koran, the Muslim holy book, in response to the burning of a copy of the Koran in Sweden, during open-air Friday prayers in Baghdad, Iraq
Followers of the Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr raise the Koran during open-air Friday prayers in Baghdad (Hadi Mizban/AP)

Iraq’s powerful Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr asked in comments released on Friday whether freedom of speech means offending other people’s beliefs. He asked why “doesn’t the burning of the gays’ rainbow flag represent freedom of expression”.

The cleric added that burning the Koran “will bring divine anger”.

Hundreds of his supporters gathered outside a mosque in Baghdad waving copies of the Koran.

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