Sweden cancels protest permit after riots at Eritrean festival

Minister blames African country's 'domestic conflicts' for violence which left 52 injured

Police stand near burnt-out cars after riots at an Eritrean cultural festival in Stockholm on Thursday. AP
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Swedish police on Friday banned a protest at an Eritrean cultural festival after more than 50 people were injured in riots.

A permit was withdrawn after ugly scenes that a minister described as Eritrean “domestic conflicts” playing out in Sweden, according to local media.

It means opponents of the Eritrean government are banned from protesting against the festival, which was seen as regime-linked, in a Stockholm suburb.

“In Sweden and Stockholm, we express our opinions democratically, not with clubs and stone-throwing,” said the city’s Mayor Karin Wanngard in a social media post.

Images showed burnt-out cars and smouldering tents following the violence at the outdoor venue on Thursday. There were 52 people reported injured, of whom 14 were still in hospital on Friday.

“There have been many injuries and it is a difficult situation for our staff to work in,” said doctor Patrik Soderberg from local health provider Region Stockholm.

Police said about 140 people were detained during the unrest. They said 40 were taken into custody because they could not prove they had permission to be in Sweden.

Investigations were opened into suspected cases of rioting, arson and sabotaging the emergency services. Three police officers were reported injured.

“It is not reasonable for Sweden to be drawn into other countries’ domestic conflicts in this way,” Justice Minister Gunnar Strommer told local news agency TT.

“If you flee to Sweden to escape violence, or are on a temporary visit, you must not cause violence here. The police’s resources are needed for other purposes than keeping different groups apart from each other.”

Many people of Eritrean background live in Sweden, which has criticised the African country’s government for its human rights record. Police said the festival included seminars and singing.

Sweden’s policy on granting protest permits has been in the spotlight because of a spate of Quran burnings this year.

Police in Stockholm have watched on while activists desecrated the Quran, while insisting they only approve a gathering and do not endorse what happens there.

The stance has angered Muslim countries and Sweden says it is reconsidering the legal position. Denmark is also looking to amend its protest laws after the Quran was burnt there.

Updated: August 04, 2023, 1:36 PM