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Iraq expels Swedish ambassador over planned Koran burning

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Iraq expelled the Swedish ambassador on Thursday in protest at a planned burning of the Koran in Stockholm that had prompted hundreds of protesters to storm and set alight the Swedish embassy in Baghdad.

An Iraqi government statement said Baghdad had also recalled its charge d’affaires in Sweden, and Iraq’s state news agency reported that Iraq had suspended the working permit of Sweden’s Ericsson on Iraqi soil.

Anti-Islam protesters, one of whom is an Iraqi immigrant to Sweden that burned the Koran outside a Stockholm mosque in June, had applied for and received permission from Swedish police to burn the Koran outside the Iraqi embassy on Thursday.

In the event, the protesters kicked and partially destroyed a book they said was the Koran but left the area after one hour without setting it alight. The Koran, the central religious text of Islam, is believed by Muslims to be a revelation from God.

Swedish Foreign Minister Tobias Billstrom said embassy staff were safe but Iraqi authorities had failed in their responsibility to protect the embassy.

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The Iraqi government strongly condemned the burning of the Swedish embassy, according to a statement from the office of Iraqi Prime Minister Mohammed Shia Al-Sudani which declared it a security breach and vowed to protect diplomatic missions.

But Baghdad had also “informed the Swedish government … that any recurrence of the incident involving the burning of the Holy Qur’an on Swedish soil would necessitate severing diplomatic relations”, the statement said.

The decision to recall the charge d’affaires to Sweden came while the protest in Stockholm had started but before the protesters had left without burning the Koran.

Billstrom said the storming of the embassy was “completely unacceptable and the government strongly condemns these attacks”. He added: “The government is in contact with high-level Iraqi representatives to express our dismay.”

In Washington, the State Department strongly condemned the attack on the embassy and criticized Iraq’s security forces for not preventing protesters from breaching the diplomatic post.

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Thursday’s demonstration was called by supporters of Shi’ite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr to protest against the second planned Koran burning in Sweden in weeks, according to posts in a popular Telegram group linked to the influential cleric and other pro-Sadr media.

Sadr, one of Iraq’s most powerful figures, commands hundreds of thousands of followers, whom he has at times called to the streets, including last summer when they occupied Baghdad’s heavily fortified Green Zone and engaged in deadly clashes.

Finnish news agency STT reported that the Finnish embassy, which is in part of the same enclosure as the Swedish, had also been evacuated but that staff were safe and unhurt.

HEADACHE FOR SWEDISH GOVERNMENT

Several videos posted to the Telegram group, One Baghdad, showed people gathering around the Swedish embassy around 1 a.m. on Thursday (2200 GMT on Wednesday) chanting pro-Sadr slogans and storming the embassy complex about an hour later.

“Yes, yes to the Koran,” protesters chanted.

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Videos later showed smoke rising from a building in the embassy complex and protesters standing on its roof.

By dawn on Thursday, security forces had deployed inside the embassy and smoke rose from the building as firefighters extinguished stubborn embers, according to Reuters witnesses.

Iraqi security forces later charged at a few dozen protesters still milling around outside the embassy to try to clear them from the area. Protesters had earlier briefly thrown rocks towards the large number of security forces gathered.

Sweden has seen several Koran burnings in recent years, mostly by far-right and anti-Muslim activists, with some of the burnings sparking clashes between police and Muslim protesters in Sweden.

Recent burnings have caused outrage in the Muslim world and condemnation from the pope. The Swedish Security services said such action left the country less safe.

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The police rejected several applications earlier this year for protests that were set to include burning the Koran, citing security concerns, but courts have since overturned the police’s decisions, saying such acts are protected by Sweden’s far-reaching freedom of speech laws.

The freedom of speech laws are protected by the constitution and cannot be easily changed, but the government has said it is considering legal changes that would allow police to stop public burnings if they endanger Sweden’s security.

The burnings have also complicated Sweden’s bid to join NATO. While Turkey said this month it will ratify Sweden’s application, previous burnings have angered Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan.

Sweden’s Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson has criticised the burnings and said that while they are legal, they are inappropriate.

-Reuters

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Kunle Solaja is the author of landmark books on sports and journalism as well as being a multiple award-winning journalist and editor of long standing. He is easily Nigeria’s foremost soccer diarist and Africa's most capped FIFA World Cup journalist, having attended all FIFA World Cup finals from Italia ’90 to Qatar 2022. He was honoured at the Qatar 2022 World Cup by FIFA and AIPS.

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POLITICS

King Mohammed VI Invites Tinubu To Morocco –

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Morocco’s monarch, King Mohammed VI has invited Nigeria’s President Bola Ahmed Adekunle Tinubu to Morocco after having a telephone conversation with the Nigerian leader. According to a statement  during a phone exchange that took place today.

A statement from the royal palace said that the two leaders discussed the development of bilateral relations between Morocco and Nigeria over the past few years.

The discussion also covered the African-Atlantic Gas Pipeline, which is a structuring project between Nigeria and Morocco that will be a strategic lever for regional integration and socio-economic development for all West African countries.

Initiated in 2016 first by King Mohammed VI and former president of Nigeria Muhammadu Buhari, the pipeline aims to promote regional integration and reinforce Africa’s energy security. Morocco is set to host over 1600 kilometers of the project, which is 5,600 kilometers long in total.

King Mohammed VI has frequently emphasized the importance of the project, reiterating Morocco’s commitment to the pipeline project with Nigeria.In November 2023, during a speech the King gave commemorating the Green March, he stressed the potential benefits that the pipeline could bring not only to Africa but also to Europe.

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“The Morocco-Nigeria gas pipeline  strategic project is part of that endeavor,” he said, referring to the purpose of the project; to promote regional integration and boost economic growth.
The pipeline is set to connect over 11 countries in the region to benefit from Nigerian gas sources.
Many countries have endorsed the project, including Senegal.

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US reaffirms support for Morocco’s Autonomy Plan on Western Sahara

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The US State Department has affirmed the country’s support for Morocco on the Western Sahara issue.

In a statement of support issued on Sunday, the Americans remarked: “There is no change in the clear and consistent U.S. position regarding the Moroccan Sahara issue.”

 

The statement is published on the eve of the visit to Morocco of U.S. Assistant Secretary for North Africa Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs Joshua Harris, the State Department stressed that during his talks in Rabat, the U.S. official will reiterate that “there is no change in the clear and consistent U.S. position.”

This new reaffirmation of the consistency of Washington’s position provides a scathing denial of the fallacious allegations conveyed by some Algerian media outlets which have insinuated, following the recent visit to Algiers made by the U.S. official, an alleged change in the U.S. position on the Sahara issue.

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“The United States fully supports UN Personal Envoy de Mistura in facilitating the negotiations process to achieve a just, lasting, and mutually acceptable solution for the Sahara,” the statement points out.

After recalling that the United States “believes a negotiated political solution should be realized without further delay,” the same source underlines that “the outcome of UN-led negotiations – mutually agreed to by the parties and reflecting their commitment to UN efforts in a spirit of realism and compromise – would constitute the final resolution to this issue.”

“In this regard, the United States continues to view Morocco’s Autonomy Proposal as serious, credible, and realistic,” it says.

The visit to Rabat of Deputy Assistant Secretary Joshua Harris will also focus on the means to further strengthen the U.S.-Morocco partnership in addition to a range of regional security priorities, the statement stress

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Morocco, UAE strengthen ties

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King Mohammed VI of Morocco and President Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan of the United Arab Emirates

Morocco’s monarch, King Mohammed VI and United Arab Emirate’s President Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan on Monday engaged in high-level talks aimed at bolstering bilateral cooperation on Monday.

They issued a press release in which both countries highlighted the mutual appreciation and deep-rooted affection.

King Mohammed VI commended President Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan for successfully overseeing the 28th Conference of the Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP 28) held in Dubai.

The meeting showcased the two countries’ shared commitment to boost ties, with emphasis on a multidimensional partnership across many spheres.

King Mohammed VI underscored Morocco’s strides in infrastructure and structural reforms, outlining a vision of economic and social development through strategic investments.

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On his part, President Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan hailed Morocco’s potential as an investment hub, acknowledging the nation’s diverse assets and conducive business climate. The leaders affirmed their intent to cultivate innovative partnerships, exploring collaborative ventures that would benefit both nations economically and socially.

They also expressed keen interest in implementing joint action plans based on signed agreements, aiming to pioneer common partnerships in regional and international markets.

King Mohammed VI extended gratitude to President Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan for the UAE’s unwavering support on national issues and Morocco’s development.

The talks concluded with an optimistic outlook, fostering a renewed sense of cooperation and shared aspirations for the future.

Following the talks, the two leaders signed a joint declaration, committing to boosting bilateral ties and cooperation in a wide range of sectors.

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The declaration is titled “Towards an Innovative, Renewed, and Deep-rooted Partnership,” and aims to strengthen ties between the two countries through win-win economic ties.

The declaration’s text indicates that King Mohammed VI’s visit to the UAE came at the invitation of Al Nahyan.

“During their bilateral talks… the two Heads of State reiterated their firm and resolute commitment to elevate the relations between the two countries and their mutual cooperation towards broader horizons, through active economic partnerships serving their shared supreme interests, generating progress and prosperity for the two brotherly peoples,” the declaration reads.

The declaration expresses the two countries’ desire to work towards elevating bilateral ties in economic, commercial, investment, and industrial aspects to the “level of deep political” ties to serve the development goals of both countries.

The two countries also aspire to establish a model of comprehensive and balanced economic and investment cooperation open to the private sector, attracting benefits for both.

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