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3 hurt, 25 arrested in unrest over far-right demonstrations in Sweden

Swedish police said April 17 that three people were apparently hit by police bullets during protests against a far-right group in Norrkoping, Sweden. (Video: Reuters)

Swedish police said Monday that they had arrested 25 people, including eight minors, in two cities during a weekend of confrontations across Sweden spurred by Koran-burning rallies held by a far-right, anti-Islam Danish group.

On Sunday, police said three people were slightly injured in the eastern city of Norrkoping after being hit by police bullets during a clash. Police said they fired the bullets as warning shots to disperse counterprotesters angry about the far-right rallies and desecration of Islam’s holiest book, the Associated Press reported.

The arrests announced Monday took place in Norrkoping and nearby Linkoping, to the southwest. Swedish police also issued a request Monday for any videos or photos that captured “attempts at murder and violence against officials” related to the weekend riots, in which several police officers were also injured.

The catalyst for the uproar was Danish-Swedish extremist Rasmus Paludan, who in 2017 established the Danish far-right Stram Kurs, or Hard Line, movement, which trumpets an anti-immigrant and anti-Islam agenda.

On Thursday and Friday, the party live-streamed video of Paludan burning the Koran in various Swedish cities.

Protests broke out Thursday in Linkoping and Norrkoping ahead of Paludan’s first rally. Police at the time condemned the “riots,” saying in a statement that they were there “to ensure that people can use their constitutionally protected rights to demonstrate and express their opinion.”

During demonstrations Friday, protesters and counterprotesters clashed in the central city of Orebro. On Saturday, clashes occurred in the southern city of Malmo. Swedish police described the situation as a “messy night” with many “disturbances in the forms of fire and attacks on the police,” as well as molotov cocktails and stone-throwing. Vehicles, including a city bus, were set on fire.

In a statement, police said their aim was to maintain the “constitutionally protected freedom of expression and assembly” of the licensed assembly and counterprotesters.

On Sunday, Paludan posted on social media that he would cancel demonstrations in Norrkoping and Linkoping because police had shown that they were “incapable” of protecting themselves and Paludan.

In a Sunday interview with the Swedish daily Aftonbladet, Swedish Justice Minister Morgan Johansson told the rioters to “go home.” Johansson labeled Paludan a “right-wing extremist fool whose only goal is to drive violence and divisions,” but added that “Sweden is a democracy, and in a democracy, fools also have freedom of speech.”

In 2020, Paludan was sentenced to three months in jail on counts including racism and defamation.

In 2019, his party came close to entering Parliament in Denmark. Though Stram Kurs did not gain a seat that year, Denmark notably saw a mainstream shift to the right on anti-immigration policies. In 2018, the nationalist and right-wing populist Sweden Democrats, a group with neo-Nazi origins, won about 18 percent of the vote in Sweden’s general election. Its boost was attributed by analysts in large part to anxieties over crime and migration.

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