Police call in reinforcements as Stockholm braces for more riots

STOCKHOLM (AFP) - Stockholm police called in reinforcements as the Swedish capital braced for a fifth night of riots on Thursday in its immigrant-dominated suburbs, where rioters torched cars and attacked local stations overnight.

The riots, which have shattered Sweden's image abroad as a peaceful and egalitarian nation, have sparked a debate in Sweden about the assimilation of immigrants, who make up about 15 per cent of the population.

Many of the immigrants who have arrived due to the country's generous refugee policy, struggle to learn the language and find employment despite numerous government programmes.

Police said on Thursday they would be calling in reinforcements from other parts of the country as they braced for more trouble in coming days.

The fire brigade said it was called to some 90 different blazes overnight, most of them caused by rioters.

Early on Thursday, rioters hurled rocks at a local police station in the Kista district, near the suburb of Husby where the unrest began on Sunday night.

Rocks were also thrown at two local police stations south of the Swedish capital.

In the southern suburb of Skogaas, a restaurant was badly damaged after it was set ablaze.

"We are gradually becoming more like other countries," said Mr Aje Carlbom, a social anthropologist at Malmoe University.

The troubles are believed to have been triggered by the fatal police shooting of a 69-year-old Husby resident last week after the man wielded a machete in public.

The man then fled to his apartment, where police have said they tried to mediate but ended up shooting him dead in what they claimed was self-defence.

Local activists said the shooting sparked anger among youths who claim to have suffered from police brutality. During the first night of rioting, they said police had called them "tramps, monkeys and negroes". Two people, including one police officer, have been reported injured in the four nights of rioting.

Police meanwhile downplayed the scale of the events.

"Every injured person is a tragedy, every torched car is a failure for society... but Stockholm is not burning. Let's have a level-headed view of the situation," said Mr Ulf Johansson, deputy police chief for Stockholm county.

Residents of areas largely populated by immigrants are suffering from segregation, anthropologist Carlbom told Agence France-Presse.

"Living as a young person in these segregated areas can be very hard in many ways. You have virtually no contact with other Swedes and a lot of times I don't think you have a good understanding of Swedish society," he said.

For example, some 80 per cent of the 12,000 residents in the suburb of Husby are immigrants.

Due to its liberal immigration policy, Sweden has in recent decades become one of Europe's top destinations for immigrants, both in absolute numbers and relative to its size.

In the past decade it has welcomed hundreds of thousands of immigrants from Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, Somalia and the Balkans, among others.

This is not the first time the Scandinavian country has seen riots among immigrants.

In 2010, up to 100 youths threw bricks, set fires and attacked the local police station in the immigrant-dominated suburb of Rinkeby for two nights.

And in 2008, hundreds of youths rioted against police in the southern Swedish town of Malmoe, sparked by the closure of an Islamic cultural centre in the suburb of Rosengaard that housed a mosque.

Swedish Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt on Wednesday blamed the recent violence on "hooligans" and said on Thursday they were not representative of the majority in those areas.

"I think it's dangerous to draw a picture of a Sweden with a capital separated from its suburbs. I don't think that's true. I think the dividing line runs straight through Husby, with a majority population and then a small group of troublemakers," Mr Reinfeldt said in parliament.

Integration Minister Erik Ullenhag meanwhile attributed the violence to high unemployment and social exclusion in Sweden's immigrant-dominated areas.

"We know that there is discrimination in these areas, and these events don't improve the image of these areas, where there is a lot of positive stuff going on but which is totally eclipsed right now," he told TT.

In Husby, overall unemployment was 8.8 per cent in 2012, compared to 3.3 per cent in Stockholm as a whole, according to official data.

And a total of 12 per cent in Husby received social benefits last year, compared to 3.6 per cent in Stockholm as a whole.

The riots have received international media attention, with some comparisons being drawn to similar problems assimilating immigrants in other European countries such as Britain and France.

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