Last updated: May 22, 2013 6:12 am

Stockholm riots spread in third night of unrest

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Emergency personnel look on after youths staged a riot in Northern Stockholm, Sweden, on the night of May 19 2013©EPA

Rioting in Stockholm spread to as many as a dozen suburbs in a third consecutive night of unrest that has reopened the debate about how well integrated immigrants are in Sweden.

Cars were set on fire all over the Swedish capital on Tuesday night and early on Wednesday, while in several suburbs police and other emergency services were pelted with stones, Swedish television reported.

Stockholm police, who made several arrests, said the situation was made more complicated by the number of suburbs where unrest was recorded. But they also noted that the initial hotspot of Husby, home to a large immigrant population, was calmer on Tuesday night.

“It is very similar to what we have seen in London or Paris but not yet on that scale. But it is a sign of a similar problem; it is a sign of failing integration,” said Per Adman, associate professor at Uppsala University, before the latest unrest.

Sweden attracts one of the highest numbers of immigrants in the EU compared with the size of its population. That has led to a fierce debate about their integration, especially as youth unemployment is particularly high among immigrants.

The rioting was apparently sparked after police last weekend killed a 69-year-old man accused of brandishing a machete. About 100 people were involved in clashes with the police on both Sunday and Monday nights.

On Tuesday night, fires were reported in Husby, the neighbouring suburbs of Tensta and Kista, as well as Jakobsberg, Sollentuna, Norsborg, Värberg, Skarpnäck, Skärholmen, Fittja and Bredäng, according to SVT, Swedish public television.

Stockholm police had said on Tuesday night they were calling in extra help in Husby after saying criminals from outside the area had been stoking the trouble. In turn, Megafonen, a local youth organisation, has accused the police of using racial slurs and argued the riots were a reaction to alleged police brutality.

Swedish politicians reacted to the disorder in a nuanced manner on Tuesday. “The core of this is a group of young, angry men who think by force they can change society,” said Fredrik Reinfeldt, prime minister. “Let us be very clear: this is not OK. The use of violence is not a way to express freedom of speech in Sweden.”

Stefan Löfven, leader of the opposition Social Democratic party, which is ahead in the polls before next year’s parliamentary elections, said: “We must be clear and tough on crime and show it is not acceptable. But we also need to have a discussion on the causes of crime, and I’m talking primarily about long-term unemployment.”

Sweden’s reputation for equality and tolerance has been tested by a series of incidents in recent years, including a number of racially motivated killings in the southern city of Malmö.

Experts say that while the Nordic country successfully integrated its immigrants in the 1960s and 1970s it has struggled to do so in the past decade, with many blaming a lack of jobs for low-skilled workers. Youth unemployment was 25.1 per cent in March, above the EU average, even as the overall rate was 8.4 per cent and below the average.

Racial tensions have led to the rise of the Sweden Democrats, an anti-immigrant group that is now the third-largest political party in the country.

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