Man Burns NATO Papers in Sweden in Protest Over Alliance Bid

A man burned pages of NATO’s bylaws on Wednesday to protest Sweden’s bid to join the alliance, changing gears after planning to burn a religious text.

The local police said the protest in the southern Swedish city of Helsingborg was peaceful and attracted a crowd of about 200 people to a city square. The lead-up to it had drawn attention after the man, Lucas Ljungkvist, said he would burn a religious text selected at random from a bag containing the Quran and two others, according to the police. It was unclear what the other texts would have been.

The planned protest, covered by the Swedish news media, fed into a tense debate after the burning of a Quran outside a mosque in Stockholm last month during Eid al-Adha, an important Muslim holiday, led to protests and widespread condemnation.

The episode also added to strains with Turkey, which had held up Sweden’s NATO bid partly over what it said was Sweden’s harboring of dissidents whom it views as terrorists, including pro-Kurdish activists. In a sudden reversal, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey on Monday agreed to clear the way for Sweden’s entry.

Sweden, among other countries, has wrestled with how to handle protests involving the burning of the Quran. Critics have called them incitements of religious hate, and the government has called the acts Islamophobic and warned that the burnings have consequences for Sweden security. But Swedish courts have overturned decisions from the authorities to refuse permission for such protests, saying they do not have enough evidence that it would disrupt public order and security to infringe on rights to freedom of speech.

The local authorities granted Mr. Ljungkvist a protest permit, citing freedom of speech rights. “We can’t say no to an application for freedom of speech,” said Mattias Sigfridsson, a police commissioner for Skane County, which includes Helsingborg.

After Turkey agreed to support Sweden’s bid, Mr. Ljungkvist was quoted by the Aftonbladet news outlet as saying that he had changed his mind and would burn a copy of the NATO statutes instead. He had initially said he wanted to burn a religious text to try to delay or stop the process to join NATO, Aftonbladet reported, without elaborating.

At the protest on Wednesday, the man apologized for any offense he had caused along the way, according to a police spokesman, saying that his intention was to vocalize his opposition to NATO. He had said earlier that he wanted to support freedom of speech.

The issue of Quran burnings in Europe recently spurred a debate before the United Nations Human Rights Council, which passed a resolution on Wednesday calling on countries to examine their laws to prevent religious hatred. Countries, including the United States, however, disputed the resolution saying that though they opposed religious intolerance, the measure impinged on freedom of speech.

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