x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

Cars and schools set ablaze in fifth night of Stockholm riots

The riots, which have sated Sweden's image as a peaceful and egalitarian nation, have sparked a debate about the assimilation of immigrants, who make up about 15 per cent of the population.

Swedish fire crews and police secure an area where a fire was started by rioters in a Stockholm suburb.
Swedish fire crews and police secure an area where a fire was started by rioters in a Stockholm suburb.

STOCKHOLM // More than a dozen cars were torched and schools, shops and a police station were set ablaze as riots swept through Stockholm's immigrant-dominated suburbs for the fifth straight night, police and firefighters said Friday.

The riots, which have sated Sweden's image as a peaceful and egalitarian nation, have sparked a debate about the assimilation of immigrants, who make up about 15 per cent of the population.

Many of the immigrants who have arrived due to the country's generous refugee policy struggle to learn the language and find employment, despite numerous government programmes.

Firefighters were dispatched to 70 different locations in greater Stockholm overnight, extinguishing torched cars, shipping containers and buildings, including three schools, the fire department wrote on Twitter.

That was calmer than the previous night, when they handled 90 incidents, and police spokesman Kjell Lindgren said the riots had "decreased in intensity".

He said 13 people had been arrested, between the ages of 17 and 26, but no injuries were reported.

In Rinkeby, one of the city's immigrant-dominated areas, firefighters rushed to put out flames that engulfed six cars parked alongside each other. Five cars were totally gutted, and one sustained more moderate damage, according to an AFP photographer on the scene.

Three more cars were torched in the Norsborg suburb, police said. A police station and several shops in Aelvsjoe were set on fire, but the flames were quickly extinguished.

Firefighters said a fire set at a school in another immigrant-heavy suburb, Tensta, was quickly extinguished, as was another at a nursery school in the Kista suburb.

And police in Soedertaelje, a town south of Stockholm, said rioters threw stones at them as they responded to reports of cars set alight.

Flames from another burning vehicle in the suburb of Jordbro spread to a shopping centre, which suffered significant damage before the fire could be put out.

The troubles, which began Sunday in the Husby suburb, are believed to have been triggered by the fatal police shooting of a 69-year-old Husby resident last week after the man wielded a machete in public.

The man had fled to his apartment, where police have said they tried to mediate but ended up shooting him dead in what they claimed was self-defence.

Local activists said the shooting sparked anger among youths who claim to have suffered from police brutality. During the first night of rioting, they said police had called them "tramps, monkeys and negroes."

Stockholm county police chief Mats Loefving said Friday the rioters were local youths both with and without criminal records.

In addition, "in the midst of all this there is a small group of professional criminals, who are taking advantage of the situation to commit crimes like this," he told Swedish Radio.

Police have downplayed the scale of the events.

"Every injured person is a tragedy, every torched car is a failure for society ... but Stockholm is not burning. Let's have a level-headed view of the situation," Ulf Johansson, deputy police chief for Stockholm county, said Thursday.

Residents of areas largely populated by immigrants are often isolated from the broader Swedish society, social anthropologist Aje Carlbom of Malmoe University told AFP.

"Living as a young person in these segregated areas can be very hard in many ways. You have virtually no contact with other Swedes and a lot of times I don't think you have a good understanding of Swedish society," he said.

For example, some 80 per cent of the 12,000 residents in Husby are immigrants.

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

In the past decade it has welcomed hundreds of thousands of immigrants from Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, Somalia and the Balkans, among others.

Riots rocked the immigrant-dominated suburb of Rinkeby for two nights in 2010, and in 2008, hundreds of youths rioted against police in the southern Swedish town of Malmoe over the closure of an Islamic cultural centre.

Integration Minister Erik Ullenhag has attributed the current violence to high unemployment and social exclusion in Sweden's immigrant-dominated areas.

In Husby, overall unemployment was 8.8 per cent in 2012, compared to 3.3 per cent in Stockholm as a whole, according to official data.