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Danish PM says books should be 'read, not burned' in first comments on Quran demos

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Ritzau/The Local - [email protected]
Danish PM says books should be 'read, not burned' in first comments on Quran demos
Danish PM Mette Frederiksen has commented for the first time on the recent spate of Quran burnings. Photo: Ida Marie Odgaard/Ritzau Scanpix

Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen says that burning books is not a statement, and that a law restricting it would therefore not impinge on freedom of speech.

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Frederiksen has spoken for the first time about the recent spate of Quran burnings in an interview with broadsheet newspaper Weekendavisen.

“I don’t like it when people burn books. And until not many years ago, you couldn’t do it without consequence in Denmark,” the Prime Minister said in reference to a blasphemy law that was repealed in 2017.

“So there are many aspects in this, but our being in a new geopolitical reality naturally plays a part,” she said.

Last Sunday, the government said it would explore legal means of stopping protests involving the burning of holy texts in certain circumstances.

In the announcement, the government cites security concerns following backlash over recent incidents that saw the Quran desecrated in Denmark and Sweden.

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But the move faces criticism in parliament, with opponents saying it is the beginning of a ‘slippery slope’ to further free speech curbs.

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In the interview, Frederiksen argues that burning books is not an act of expression and and that restricting the act is therefore not a restriction of free speech – and thereby not the beginning of a “slippery slope”.

The interview represents the first time Frederiksen has got involved in the debate on the recent Quran burnings. Foreign Minister Lars Løkke Rasmussen has been at the forefront of the government’s response both internally and diplomatically, notably in relation to international criticism from the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC).

Frederiksen said that “books are meant to be read” and that they should therefore not be burned. The government’s proposal is not something “that will restrict or impose on Danish freedom of speech”, she said.

She also noted that the number of people who burn the Quran is very small.

Denmark and Sweden are among a very small number of countries which permit Quran burnings. This can have “security-related consequences”, the PM said.

Denmark does not want to risk of being isolated on the international stage, Frederiksen also said, citing ongoing efforts to find a solution to the war in Ukraine and the West’s loss of global influence.

She declined to say whether pressure has been put on Denmark or whether she had been called by state leaders or others, but admitted "international disagreement" over the issue.

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