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24 July 2024

Denmark vows zero tolerance for youth riots

By Agencies


Hundreds of youths have taken to the streets in riots across Denmark this week with racism and police harassment suggested as the cause of the discontent as the youngsters remained silent on the motive.


The government stressed on Friday it had zero tolerance for the troublemakers, less than a year after violent riots raged for days in Copenhagen over the closure of a youth centre.


Small groups of youths have set dozens of cars and dumpsters ablaze. Police officers and fire brigades have been met with stone throwing and molotov cocktails in five consecutive nights of violence in the capital that have gradually spread to other Danish towns.


Some 50 people aged 15 to 25 have been arrested during the past week, charged with arson and violence against police officers.


While last year's riots were caused by youths angry over the closure of the youth centre, this time around authorities were at a loss to explain the violence.


"We don't know exactly what's behind it," Copenhagen police spokesman Flemming Steen Munch told AFP.


The riots began at the weekend in Copenhagen's heavily immigrant populated neighbourhoods of Noerrebro and Vesterbro, but have since spread to several other areas, including Denmark's second biggest city Aarhus and other regions have no significant numbers of immigrants.


According to media reports, some of those taking part in the riots were aged 10 to 12 years old, though police said no one that young had been arrested.


Some have suggested that new regulations that allow police to search people at random for weapons, even without suspicion, have left youths in Noerrebro feeling harassed, while others accused the police of racism.


Munch said those could be the reasons for the riots, but also offered up other explanations.


"They don't like that we are in the area of Noerrebro and looking for weapons on youngsters, they don't like that we are trying to stop the cannabis market, and a few other things have been mentioned too, such as the problem with the Mohammed drawings," he said.


He was referring to the reprinting of a controversial cartoon of the Prophet Mohammed in 17 Danish newspapers on Wednesday, a move that has angered parts of the Muslim world.


Rasmus Lingnau Amossen, a youngster who planned to participate in a peaceful anti-racism demonstration in Noerrebro late Friday, told daily Politiken that many youngsters in the area felt harassed by police.


"I've spoken with some of them and asked them why they're doing it. And they said it was because of the harassment they're subjected to in connection with the searches," he said.


"When police choose to stop everyone with Arab features or the wrong skin colour while they let other people pass by, it's not about a specific effort anymore. It's about racism," he said.


Immigrants make up around 5 per cent of Denmark's population of 5.4 million, while those of Arab or Muslim origin represent 3.5 per cent.


Amossen rejected the notion that the troubles were linked to the Prophet Mohammed cartoons.


"That's totally wrong," he said, pointing out that the riots began before the reprinting of the caricatures on Wednesday.


Munch rejected the racism charge.


"According to my knowledge we don't have any racism in the Copenhagen or Danish police force," he said.


Copenhagen chief police inspector Per Larsen said police now found themselves in "a vicious cycle" with the youths and warned the riots "could spread like wildfire."


Justice Minister Lene Espersen meanwhile urged parents to take responsibility for their children.


The riots are "alarming and worrying. It is totally unacceptable to behave this way in a democratic society," she told AFP through a spokesman.


"We will have zero tolerance," for the youths, she said.


"They will be brought before a judge and be held responsible for their actions," she said, adding: "We must also ask ourselves what we can do better and how we can include parents so that they take full responsibility to ensure that their children behave properly." (AFP)