Danish government prepares bill to stop Koran burnings

COPENHAGEN (Reuters) -The Danish government said on Friday it was proposing legislation that would make it illegal to burn copies of the Koran in public places, part of the Nordic country's effort to de-escalate tensions with Muslim countries.

Denmark and Sweden have seen a string of protests in public in recent weeks where copies of the Koran have been burned or otherwise damaged, prompting outrage in Muslim nations which have demanded the Nordic governments put a stop to the burnings.

"The government will propose legislation that prohibits the inappropriate handling of objects with essential religious significance for a religious community," Justice Minister Peter Hummelgaard told a press conference.

"The proposal will thus make it punishable to, for example, in public burn a Koran, Bible or Torah," he said.

The government rejected protests by some Danish opposition parties that said banning Koran burnings would infringe on free speech.

"I fundamentally believe there are more civilised ways to express one's views than burning things," Hummelgaard said.

Danish Foreign Minister Lars Lokke Rasmussen had in July said the government would seek to "find a legal tool" that would enable authorities to prevent the burning of copies of the Koran in front of other countries' embassies in Denmark.

Breaking the new law would be punishable by fines or up to two years in prison, Hummelgaard said.

He did not say when he expected parliament to vote on the bill.

Neighbouring Sweden has also said it is examining ways to legally limit Koran desecrations to reduce tensions after recent threats that led the country's security officials to raise the terrorist threat level.

(Reporting by Johannes Birkebaek, editing by Anna Ringstrom and Terje Solsvik)