Swedish police hope beefed-up presence can quash riots

25th May 2013, Comments 0 comments

Swedish police said Saturday they hoped reinforcements and a heavy volunteer presence on the streets would help quash nightly riots that started almost a week ago in Stockholm's immigrant-dominated suburbs and that have spread to other towns.

"With the strong presence on the streets of the good forces, and the police reinforcements, I think we are well on our way towards calmer times in the coming days," Stockholm police spokesman Kjell Lindgren said.

Cars and buildings were torched overnight Friday to Saturday in the towns of Oerebro, Uppsala and Linkoeping, though tensions showed signs of easing in Stockholm's suburbs.

The unrest has sparked debate among Swedes over the integration of immigrants, many of whom arrived under the country's generous asylum policies, and who now make up about 15 percent of the population.

Firefighters responded to about 30 or 40 incidents in the greater Stockholm area overnight, down from 70 the night before and 90 the night prior to that.

"The past night was the calmest we've seen so far," Lindgren said, adding police reported no incidents of stone throwing or clashes with troublemakers.

Police reinforcements arrived on Friday from Sweden's second and third biggest cities, Gothenburg and Malmoe -- which have both experienced riots in recent years -- and volunteers patrolling the streets to restore calm had had a deterring effect and helped reduce the violence, Lindgren said.

Police have refrained from clashing with troublemakers during the almost week-long riots. Only a handful or injuries have been reported, most of them among police officers attacked by rioters with rocks.

Sweden's opposition Social Democratic party leader Stefan Loefven, who recently visited the Husby suburb where the troubles began on May 19, attributed the unrest to long-term unemployment in the affected areas and a widening gap between rich and poor.

"The most important thing is to understand the causes for what is happening and everyone I spoke to (in Husby) said the same thing: jobs and education," he told Swedish Radio.

"The political message is important now, that society is here for you. You have to take responsibility, conduct yourself well, go to school and not torch cars. But we will help you," he said.

Official data show unemployment was 8.8 percent in Husby in 2012, compared to 3.3 percent in Stockholm as a whole.

Due to its liberal immigration policy, Sweden has in recent decades become one of Europe's top destinations for immigrants and asylum seekers, both in absolute numbers and relative to its size.

But many of them struggle to learn the language and find employment, despite numerous government programmes.

According to the OECD, Sweden still ranks among the nine most equal member states of the organisation which includes the world's leading economies.

But inequality surged by one third between 1985 and 2008 -- the largest among all OECD countries, the organisation said in a report earlier this year.

In addition, the disappearance of many low-skill jobs in Sweden's high-cost economy has made it harder for many immigrants to get a foothold, experts argue.

The riots began in Husby, where 80 percent of inhabitants are immigrants, believed to be triggered by the fatal police shooting of a 69-year-old Husby resident last week after the man wielded a machete in public.

Local activists said the shooting sparked anger among youths who claim to have suffered from police brutality and racism.

The nightly riots have prompted Britain's Foreign Office, the Dutch foreign ministry and the US embassy in Stockholm to issue warnings to their nationals, urging them to avoid the affected suburbs.

Overnight, in the town of Oerebro, 160 kilometres (100 miles) west of Stockholm, police reported a fire at a school as well as several cars ablaze. A police officer was injured by a thrown stone and a police station was vandalised.

In Linkoeping, 235 kilometres southwest of the capital, a number of vehicles were incinerated, and a nursery and a primary school were both set on fire.

And in Uppsala, 70 kilometres north of Stockholm, a school and a car were set ablaze and a pharmacy was vandalised.

It remained unclear whether the cause of the unrest in the other towns was, as in Stockholm, immigrants' discontent, or merely copycat vandalism.

But Oerebro police spokesman said he believed it was the latter.

"I think some people are just taking advantage of the situation to commit these crimes as a result of what has happened in Stockholm and the attention that has received," he told TT.

© 2013 AFP

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