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Sweden riots against far-right Koran burning demo spark unrest

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

On Sunday, police said three people were slightly injured in the eastern city of Norrköping 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 latest round of arrests announced Monday took place in Norrköping and nearby Linköping further south. 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’s riots, in which several police officers were also injured.

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

On Thursday and Friday, the party live-streamed video of Paludan burning the Koran — Islam’s holy book — in different Swedish cities.

Protests broke out April 14 in Linköping and Norrköping ahead of Paludan’s first rally. Police at the time condemned the “riots” they said ensued, 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 southwestern city of Malmö, which the Swedish police described as a “messy night” with many “disturbances in the forms of fire and attacks on the police,” as well as Molotov cocktails and stones thrown. Vehicles, including a city bus, were set on fire.

In a statement, the 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 Norrköping and Linköping because the police had shown that they were “incapable” of protecting themselves and Paludan.

In a Sunday interview with 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 for charges 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 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 votes in Sweden’s general election. Its boost was attributed by analysts in large part to anxieties over crime and migration.

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