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Swedish Capital Returning to Normal After Week of Violence

A man passes by a banner reading "Stop police violence for an independent investigation" during a demonstration against police violence and vandalism in the Stockholm suburb of Husby this week.
Photographer | Collection | Getty Images
A man passes by a banner reading "Stop police violence for an independent investigation" during a demonstration against police violence and vandalism in the Stockholm suburb of Husby this week.

Sweden's capital was relatively calm on Saturday night with only isolated incidents of violence by youths after nearly a week of car-burnings and vandalism that have highlighted growing inequality in Swedish society.

Police had brought in reinforcements from around the country to stem the rioting and were out in force in the poorer suburbs of Stockholm that have seen the worst incidents.

"It is pretty calm," police spokesman Lars Bystrom said. "It isn't worse than a normal night."

Bystrom said 12 people had been taken into custody in the south of the Swedish capital and that several cars had been set on fire in different parts of the city.

He declined to say whether the police believe the wave of rioting, in which gangs of youths have attacked police stations, schools and other buildings and burned hundreds of cars, was over.

In Husby, in the northwest of the city, residents celebrated the Champions League final between Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund, helping bring a festive atmosphere to one of the areas worst hit in recent days by the rioting.

Fault Lines

A week of violence has exposed a fault line between a well-off majority of Swedes and a minority - often young people with immigrant backgrounds - who are poorly educated, cannot find work and feel pushed to the edge of society.

Underscoring Sweden's ambivalence toward its open immigration policies, an anti-immigrant party has risen to third in polls this year, and some analysts say the riots could swell its ranks.

Speaking on Swedish radio, the leader of the main opposition party, the Social Democrats, said the causes of the rioting were a lack of jobs and education.

"I get angry when schools are burned down, but then there are those who are drawn into this because they feel their situation is hopeless," Stefan Lofven said.

"I see it as a lack of trust in society," he said.

Rioting has mainly been contained in Stockholm, though on Friday night in Orebro, a town in central Sweden, some 25 masked youths set fire to three cars and a school and tried to torch a police station, police said.

The same night, some 200 kilometres (124 miles) to the southwest in Linkoping, several vehicles were set on fire and youths tried to torch a school.

The rioting was sparked by the police shooting on May 13 of a 69-year-old man, who media said was killed when officers stormed his apartment because they feared he was threatening his wife with a large knife. Media said he was a

Portuguese immigrant, which police would not confirm.

Masked Youths

The violence has echoes of rioting in recent years in Paris and London but has been relatively mild in comparison. There has been no looting, hardly any injuries and few arrests.

Much of the capital has gone about business as normal, and even affected suburbs look normal by day.

Still, it has shocked a nation that has long taken pride in its generous social safety net, though some seven years of centre-right rule have chipped away at benefits.

One recent government study showed that 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.

Youth unemployment is especially high in neighbourhoods such as the ones where the riots have taken place, home to asylum seekers from Iraq to Somalia, Afghanistan and Latin America.

About 15 percent of Sweden's population is foreign-born. While many foreigners are from neighbouring Nordic countries, others are drawn by the country's policy of welcoming asylum seekers from war-torn countries.

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.

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