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IOC 'disappointed' at Swedish and Danish response to Quran burnings

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IOC 'disappointed' at Swedish and Danish response to Quran burnings
File photo of Secretary-General of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) Hissein Brahim Taha. Photo: Evgenia Novozhenina/AFP

The Organisation of Islamic Cooperation on Monday voiced "disappointment" with the response by Sweden and Denmark to a spate of Quran burnings that have sparked outrage across the Middle East.

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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 in a statement after the opening session of an extraordinary meeting on the issue.

"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 in remarks during the meeting.

After the meeting ended, the OIC said Taha would lead a delegation to the European Union to urge officials there "to take the necessary measures to prevent the recurrence of such criminal acts under the pretext of freedom of expression".

It also called on UN Secretary-General António Guterres to appoint a special rapporteur on combating Islamophobia.

Around the time Taha was speaking on Monday afternoon, two men set the Quran alight in the latest such protest in Stockholm.

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One of the men, Sweden-based Iraqi refugee Salwan Momika, also burned pages of the Quran outside Stockholm's main mosque in late June and, earlier this month, stomped on the Quran outside the Iraqi embassy.

In Denmark, far-right group Danske Patrioter last week posted a video in which a man is seen desecrating and burning what appears to be the Quran and trampling an Iraqi flag.

Unrest in Iraq

The incidents have stoked unrest in Iraq, where hundreds of demonstrators stormed the Swedish embassy earlier this month and set fires within the compound.

The Danish Refugee Council has said its office in the southern Iraqi city of Basra came under "armed attack" in response to the Danske Patrioter video.

Governments across the region have also expressed their outrage. Iraq expelled Sweden's ambassador and Iran said it would not allow a new Swedish ambassador into the country.

Saudi Arabia, home to the Islamic holy cities of Mecca and Medina, has in recent weeks summoned Swedish and Danish diplomats to deliver protest notes denouncing "disgraceful" acts against the Quran.

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Ahead of Monday's OIC meeting, both Sweden and Denmark reached out to try to calm tensions.

On Thursday, Taha received a phone call from Sweden's foreign minister, Tobias Billström, who said Stockholm rejects acts that insult the Quran and wants to maintain good relations with OIC members, the organisation said in a statement.

On Sunday, Taha received a call from Danish Foreign Minister Lars Løkke Rasmussen, who also "condemned" insults to the Quran and said his government was "studying this issue with great interest", the OIC said.

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