News Column

Riots Rock Stockholm for 5th Day

May 24, 2013

Lennart Simonsson, dpa

A torched truck; smashed windows sealed with tape; a small heap of ashes and charred metal on a parking lot; a school building surrounded by a temporary fence; a smell of smoke in the slight breeze.

This is how Stockholm's northern suburb of Husby appeared on Friday, five days after riots first broke out there, triggering unrest in other majority-immigrant suburbs of the Swedish capital.

Hundreds took part in the riots, the country's worst since the 2010 clashes in the Malmo district of Rosengard.

Frustration among young male immigrants from the Middle East and North Africa, who feel marginalized and have little hope for the future and no jobs, is an explanation often offered.

The riots started on Sunday - almost a week after news spread that police had shot dead a knife-wielding 69-year-old man who had threatened to kill them. About 80 per cent of the 12,000 people who live in the Husby suburb are immigrants and unemployment is high.

A group of five or six youths in their early 20s is sitting on a bench behind a graffiti-decorated building.

"We hate the police," one of the youths says. Like his friends he refuses to give his name, but says he is from Iraq.

They refuse to state whether they have taken part in the riots, but repeatedly complain about being "harassed" by the police.

"I'm due to serve a year-long prison sentence," a 20-year-old with Lebanese roots says. "I did some bad things when I was 17, 18. Now they have put it all together, and I have to go to jail. But why did it take so long?"

Due to his track record, he has often been taken in for questioning and has spent time in police cells. He dropped out of high school but hopes to complete his studies in prison.

The group quietens when another young man dressed in a Brazil football shirt approaches. A brief nod signals he has granted permission for them to continue to talk, but he remains silent.

The Husby shooting is also mentioned. "Why did they fire six shots at the man, they have protective gloves and could have taken the knife away," they say of the police.

At a nearby sports club, Somali-born Alikalay is preparing a football tournament for fifth-graders. "I have never had a bad experience with the police," he says. "I don't know who is behind this violence, but it has to be stopped as it hits families and kids."

The 25-year-old says he is confident the tight-knit community and various organizations in Husby will continue to take part in night-time walks and other activities until the attacks end.

Eritrean-born Mehereretab, who has lived in Sweden since 1988, says the violence has to end. "We have had enough," he says before heading off for his shift as a truck driver.

Further up the street, Husby merges with Kista - another suburb with a large number of immigrants but also home to numerous high-tech companies and the headquarters of telecoms giant Ericsson.

About 100 pupils, from age 5 to 12, have lost their Montessori school there due to arson.

At first glance there are few signs of damage on the red-painted school, located near a grove of trees below a few apartment buildings. But behind a fence erected around the school, three police technicians in white jumpsuits document the charred remains of a classroom.

Emilia, 10, and her friends Jasmine, Dennis, Benjamin and Amir are upset. "We are really mad, all our school books and assignments are gone," they say. "Where will we have class? Yesterday we handed in a lot of work to the teacher, now it's all gone, and the fish in the aquarium died but someone rescued our three tortoises."

Emilia's mother Asa Tellhammar, who has lived in Husby for over 20 years, is saddened and does not understand the attacks. "You can replace cars, but preschools and schools ... I just don't know what's happening."

During the past week she checked the news first thing in the morning to see where the latest fires were. As a volunteer at a nearby youth centre she worried that it would also be torched, perhaps causing her colleagues to lose their jobs.

She said police at times were heavy-handed in their approach, but many rioters caused mayhem just for the thrill of it and not because of any grievances.

Meanwhile, a young IT technician, Christian, loads sooty and blackened laptops and other equipment onto a truck. "Hopefully we can salvage information off the server, which was in an electric cabinet," he says.

In another part of Husby, members of community advocacy group Megafonen prepare for a new set of meetings with politicians, who are seeking answers to what can restore calm and order.

"We are not a party, we are a go-between and our message is that we need constructive solutions, we need more spending on welfare and education to tackle the structural racism," Ilhan Kellecioglu, member of the group, sums up.

Source: Copyright 2013 dpa Deutsche Presse-Agentur GmbH

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