Southern Sweden has been gripped by riots after an anti-Islam far-right group announced its leader would be burning a Koran to protest Muslim immigration.
The latest scuffles and unrest roiled the city of Landskrona late on Saturday despite the provocative demonstration scheduled by the Danish Stram Kurs party having been moved to the nearby city of Malmo, some 45kms south.
Up to 100 mostly young counter-demonstrators threw stones, torched cars, set tyres and bins on fire and erected a makeshift blockade to obstruct traffic and police access, Swedish police said.
The situation had calmed down in Landskrona by late on Saturday but remained tense, police said, adding no injuries were reported in the action.
On Friday evening, violent clashes between demonstrators and counter-protesters erupted in the central city of Orebro ahead of Stram Kurs’ plan to burn another Koran there, leaving 12 police officers injured and four police vehicles set on fire.
Video footage and photos from chaotic scenes in Orebro showed police cars in flames and protesters throwing stones and other objects at officers in riot gear.
Kim Hild, spokeswoman for police in southern Sweden, said earlier on Saturday that police would not revoke permission for the Landskrona demonstration because the threshold for doing that is very high in Sweden, which values free speech.
The price of free speech
The right of the protesters “to demonstrate and speak out weighs enormously, heavily and it takes an incredible amount for this to be ignored,” Hild told Swedish news agency TT.
The demonstration took place on Saturday evening in a central park in Malmo where Stram Kurs’ leader Rasmus Paludan addressed a few dozen people.
Counter-protesters threw stones at demonstrators and police was forced to use pepper spray to disperse them.
Paludan himself was reported to have been hit on the leg by a stone, but no serious injuries were reported, according to police.
Since Thursday, clashes have been reported also in Stockholm and in the cities of Linkoping and Norrkoping — all locations where Stram Kurs either planned or had demonstrations.
Paludan, a Danish lawyer who also holds Swedish citizenship, set up Stram Kurs, or “Hard Line” in 2017.
The website of the party, which runs on an anti-immigration and anti-Islam agenda says “Stram Kurs is the most patriotic political party in Denmark.”