Reinforcements called in for Stockholm riots

ILZE FILKS AND MIA SHANLEY
Last updated 06:45 25/05/2013

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Police in Stockholm called in reinforcements today after youths set cars and a school ablaze in a fifth night of rioting, the worst to hit Sweden for years.

Pupils at a primary school in Kista - an IT hub that is home to the likes of telecoms equipment maker Ericsson and the Swedish office of Microsoft - arrived to find the inside of the small red wooden building had been completely burnt out.

While Thursday was slightly calmer than the four nights before, about 30 cars were torched and eight people, mostly in their early 20s, were detained, police said.

In a country with a reputation for openness, tolerance and a model welfare state, the rioting has exposed a fault-line between a well-off majority and a minority - often young people with immigrant backgrounds - who are poorly educated, cannot find work and feel pushed to the edge of society.

"In the short run, the acute thing is to ensure that these neighbourhoods get back to normal everyday life. In the long run we need to create positive spirals in these neighbourhoods," Erik Ullenhag, Sweden's integration minister, told Reuters.

The police said they were calling in extra backup from the cities of Malmo and Gothenburg.

"Now it's Friday, the weekend, and we usually have more to do. We think there's going to be a lot of work and many have worked hard these last few days, so we are calling in extra police," spokesman Anders Jonsson said, without giving numbers.

MASKED YOUTHS

The spree of destruction has seen masked youths vandalise schools, libraries and police stations, setting cars alight and hurling stones at police and firefighters.

It was sparked by the fatal police shooting earlier this month of a 69-year man, reported by local media to be a Portuguese immigrant and suspected of wielding a large knife, in a Stockholm suburb called Husby.

Though far from the scale of riots in London or Paris in recent years, the violence has shocked a nation which has long taken pride in its generous social safety net.

Some seven years of centre-right rule, however, have chipped away at benefits, while some communities have struggled to cope with the heavy wave of immigration they are seeing from war-torn countries like Syria.

Youth unemployment is especially high in immigrant neighborhoods like the ones where the riots have taken place.

Kicki Haak, head of the small Montessori school that was set alight in Kista, said she did not know if it would be able to reopen. The 94 students will move into improvised classrooms in nearby office buildings from Monday.

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"Five nights in a row - it's incomprehensible," said Faisal Lugh, whose two children are pupils at the school.

"My children asked about the things they had there: 'How about my books? My rain jacket? My pictures? Are they all gone?"' said Lugh, who works for an unemployment office and often helps new immigrants find jobs.

FRUSTRATED RESIDENTS

There are signs that residents in the affected areas are getting fed up with the violence. Many community leaders, dressed in fluorescent jackets, have taken to the streets to try to calm things down.

"When will it stop?" said Maryam Rahimi, who works at a school in Husby that was vandalised earlier this week.

Risto Kajanto, brother-in-law of the man who was shot dead, told Swedish tabloid Aftonbladet he condemned the violence.

"I want to say to all those who are burning cars that it is totally wrong to react that way," he said.

The incident prompted accusations of police brutality, and violence spread from Husby to other poor neighbourhoods.

One recent government study showed up to a third of young people aged 16 to 29 in some of the most deprived areas of Sweden's big cities neither study nor have a job.

The gap between rich and poor in Sweden is growing faster than in any other major nation, according to the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development, though absolute poverty remains uncommon.

- Reuters

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