STOCKHOLM (Reuters) - Community patrols and a beefed-up police presence helped to calm violence around Stockholm overnight on Saturday but 20 to 30 cars were still torched in poor immigrant suburbs and serious incidents were reported outside the capital for the first time.
The rioting in Stockholm abated after a week of masked youths vandalising schools and police stations, setting cars alight and hurling stones at firefighters, police said.
“It was much calmer - rocks weren’t being thrown at police or firefighters - and that’s a sign that it’s calmer. We haven’t had any riots or anything similar,” said police spokesman Kjell Lindgren.
Community leaders were taking to the streets, dressed in fluorescent jackets, to try to calm things down.
“We have been present in many places, we’ve been talking to people, and many residents have been out in the city, keeping their eyes open, being engaged,” Lindgren said.
But serious incidents were reported outside the Stockholm area, for the first time.
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. Some 200 km to the southwest in Linkoping, several vehicles were set on fire and youths tried to torch a school and a kindergarten, they said.
The rioting was sparked by the police shooting on May 13 of a 69-year-old man, who media reported was killed when police 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.
In a country famed for its model welfare state, the rioting has exposed a fault-line between a well-off majority 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.
Dozens of far-right activists were seen driving around some southern suburbs of Stockholm on Friday, closely watched by police.
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 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.
Writing by Alistair Scrutton; Editing by Sonya Hepinstall