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Protesters try to storm Baghdad Green Zone over apparent burning of Quran in Denmark

Crowd tries to enter heavily fortified area following reports a Danish ultranationalist group burned a copy of holy book outside the Iraqi Embassy in Copenhagen

Protesters gather in Baghdad's Tahrir Square, carrying Iraqi flags and images of influential Iraqi Shiite cleric and political leader Muqtada al-Sadr, July 22, 2023, following reports of the burning of a Quran carried out by a ultranationalist group in front of the Iraqi Embassy in Copenhagen. (AP Photo/Ali Jabar)
Protesters gather in Baghdad's Tahrir Square, carrying Iraqi flags and images of influential Iraqi Shiite cleric and political leader Muqtada al-Sadr, July 22, 2023, following reports of the burning of a Quran carried out by a ultranationalist group in front of the Iraqi Embassy in Copenhagen. (AP Photo/Ali Jabar)

BAGHDAD (AP) — Hundreds of protesters attempted to storm Baghdad’s heavily fortified Green Zone, which houses foreign embassies and the seat of Iraq’s government, early Saturday following reports an ultranationalist group burned a copy of the Quran in front of the Iraqi Embassy in Copenhagen.

Security forces pushed back protesters, who blocked the Jumhuriya bridge leading to the Green Zone, preventing them from reaching the Danish Embassy.

The protest came two days after people angered by the planned burning of the Islamic holy book in Sweden stormed the Swedish Embassy in Baghdad. Protesters occupied the diplomatic post for several hours, waving flags and signs showing the influential Iraqi Shiite cleric and political leader Muqtada al-Sadr, and setting a small fire. The embassy staff had been evacuated a day earlier.

Hours later, Iraq’s prime minister cut diplomatic ties with Sweden in protest over the desecration of the Quran.

An Iraqi asylum-seeker who burned a copy of the Quran during a demonstration last month in Stockholm had threatened to do the same thing again Thursday but ultimately stopped short of setting fire to the book. He did, however, kick and step on it, and did the same with an Iraqi flag and a photo of Sadr and of Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

On Friday afternoon, thousands protested peacefully in Iraq and other Muslim-majority countries.

Followers of Iraqi Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr protest on Tahrir Square near Baghdad’s Green Zone a day after an alleged burning of the Koran in Copenhagen, early on July 22, 2023. (Murtaja Lateef/AFP)

Also on Friday, according to Danish media reports, members of the ultranationalist group Danske Patrioter burned a copy of the Quran and an Iraqi flag in front of the Iraqi Embassy in Copenhagen, livestreaming the action on Facebook.

Copenhagen police spokeswoman Trine Fisker told The Associated Press that “a very small demonstration” with less than 10 people took place Friday afternoon across the street from the Iraqi embassy and that a book was burned.

“We do not know what book it was,” she said. “Apparently they tried to burn the Iraqi flag and after that, somebody stepped on it.”

Fisker said the “political angle is not for the police to comment” on, but the “event was peaceful… from a police perspective.”

The incident prompted the protests in Baghdad overnight. Chanting in support of Sadr and carrying images of the prominent leader and the flag associated with his movement, along with the Iraqi flag, hundreds of protesters attempted to enter the Green Zone and clashed with security forces before dispersing.

In a statement on Saturday, the Iraqi Ministry of Foreign Affairs condemned “in strong and repeated terms, the incident of abuse against the Holy Quran and the flag of the Republic of Iraq in front of the Iraqi Embassy in Denmark.”

It called the international community “to stand urgently and responsibly towards these atrocities that violate social peace and coexistence around the world.” the statement read.

Another protest is scheduled to take place in Baghdad at 6 p.m.

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