‘We have seen violent riots before but this is something else,’ says Sweden’s national police chief
Protesters who were hit by police bullets in the city of Norrkoping were taken to hospital. “Three people seem to have been hit by ricochets and are now being cared for in hospital. All three injured are arrested on suspicion of crime,” the authorities said.
Riots erupted in several parts of the country following demonstrations organised by Rasmus Paludan, leader of the Danish far-right political party Stram Kurs or Hard Line. The extremist leader is reportedly known for his anti-Islam acts and had permission to hold a series of demonstrations across Sweden during the weekend.
Swedish authorities said they had fired “warning shots” during the riot to disperse protesters angry about demonstrations over the past few days. Several counter-protests planned against the demonstrations by Mr Paludan turned violent after he set fire to a copy of the Quran on Friday.
Kim Hild, a spokesperson for police in southern Sweden, had said on Saturday that the police would not revoke permission for the demonstration targeting religious minorities because the threshold for doing that is very high in Sweden, which values free speech.
The right of the protesters “to demonstrate and speak weighs enormously heavily and it takes an incredible amount for this to be ignored”, Ms Hild told Swedish news agency TT.
During the rally on Saturday, vehicles including buses and cars were set on fire in the southern city of Malmo. Counter-protesters threw stones at the right-wing demonstrators, and the police reportedly used pepper spray to disperse them.
At least 16 police officers were injured during the weekend-long unrest in Linkoping, Norrkoping and in suburbs of the capital Stockholm.
Mr Paludan was hit by a stone which struck his leg, local media reported.
Videos and photographs from Orebro showed police cars set ablaze and protesters throwing stones and other objects at officers in riot gear.
In the southern city of Landskrona, hundreds of mostly young people threw stones and set cars, tyres and dustbins on fire.
Mr Paludan and his party, which runs on an anti-immigration and anti-Islamic agenda, had planned a demonstration in Norrkoping on Sunday but he reportedly failed to show up.
He announced on the party’s Facebook page that he decided to cancel Sunday’s demonstrations in the two locations as the Swedish authorities in the region have “shown that they are completely incapable of protecting themselves and me”.
He added: “If I was seriously injured or killed due to the inadequacy of the police authority, then it would be very sad for Swedes, Danes and other northerners.”
Anders Thornberg, Sweden’s national police chief, told BBC News: “We have seen violent riots before. But this is something else.”