An Eritrea-themed cultural festival in a Stockholm suburb took a violent turn on Thursday when about a thousand anti-Eritrean government protesters stormed the event, leaving at least 52 people injured, Swedish media reported.
The protesters set booths and vehicles ablaze, sending smoke billowing into the sky. Swedish newspaper Expressen reported that up to a thousand protesters marched towards the festival grounds, pushing past police cordons and using sticks and rocks as weapons.
Swedish police spokesperson Daniel Wikdahl told The Associated Press that “between 100 and 200 people have been detained.” A significant police presence is still at the scene and investigations are underway, he said.
Sweden is home to tens of thousands of people with Eritrean roots. The festival devoted to the cultural heritage of Eritrea is an annual event that has been held since the 1990s but has been criticised for allegedly serving as a promotional tool and source of money for the African nation’s government, according to Swedish media.
“This is not a festival, they are teaching their children hate speech,” protester Michael Kobrab told Swedish broadcaster TV4.
Human rights groups describe Eritrea as one of the world’s most repressive countries. Since winning independence from Ethiopia three decades ago, the small Horn of Africa nation has been led by President Isaias Afwerki, who has never held an election.
Millions of people have fled conditions such as forced military conscription.
A festival participant, Emanuel Asmalash, also spoke to TV4 and accused the protesters of being “terrorists” from Ethiopia.
“It is not reasonable for Sweden to be drawn into other countries’ domestic conflicts in this way,” Justice Minister Gunnar Strömmer said in a written statement to the Swedish news agency TT.
“If you flee to Sweden to escape violence, or are on a temporary visit, you must not cause violence here,” he added.
“The police’s resources are needed for other purposes than keeping different groups apart from each other.”