Copenhagen's calm broken by riots over eviction of squatters

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The Independent Online

The Danish authorities were clearing up yesterday after Copenhagen's customary calm was broken by riots which forced police to fire tear gas and arrest 300 people after a weekend demonstration.

Trouble flared when 1,000 protesters gathered in the capital to protest plans to evict a group of young people from a city centre building. The graffiti-covered youth centre is to be handed over to a Christian congregation that bought it five years ago.

Police said they had detained "200 to 300" demonstrators in the worst outbreak of unrest seen in Copenhagen for years. Flemming Steen Munch, spokesman for the police, said: "It was extremely violent. It looked like a war zone and it's been many years since we last had to use tear gas on the streets."

Witnesses said cobblestones and fireworks were thrown at the security forces and at least one demonstrator had suffered respiratory problems after tear gas was fired. Police split the main body of demonstrators into several smaller groups, using armoured vehicles. But demonstrators then took their violent protest to the city centre, smashing shop windows and leaving a trail of destruction. The Jyllandsposten newspaper reported that one demonstrator was found unconscious and two police officers had been taken to hospital to be treated for their injuries.

Last Thursday, a peaceful demonstration was mounted in a last-minute effort to persuade the Copenhagen city council to stop the eviction.

Protesters says enforcing the court order to evict the young people is part of a policy of trying to clean up the less gentrified areas of the Danish capital.

Left-wing activists have been using the Ungdom-shuset youth centre in the city's Nørrebro district building as a base since 1982 when it was first occupied by young squatters. They ultimately established their right to live there.

But the present conflict has been brewing since 1999 when the building was sold by Copenhagen city council to a group called Human A/S, which later sold it on to the Faderhuset Christian group. The residents have staged numerous demonstrations to keep the house since August, when Faderhuset's right to move in was upheld by Denmark's eastern high court.

The occupants of the youth centre have called for a political solution. But the best hope of that was dashed with a final rejection from the management of Faderhuset to an offer of £1.2m for the Ungdom-shuset collective. Young people fear the building will be demolished to help regenerate that area.

For weeks, the Nørrebro Trade Association has been warning of the risk of rioting as the crisis escalated and tempers flared among young people who fear they will be left homeless.

The court originally ordered the occupants to leave on 14 December though they were subsequently given a stay of execution. The city's mayor has expressed regret at the refusal of the Faderhuset management to accept the buyout but said nothing could be done since it was a private, commercial decision.

Such violence is rare in Denmark, and in the other Nordic countries, which have experienced little similar destruction since the protests of the anti-globalisation movement petered out a few years ago. During those protests, the city of Gothenburg suffered serious damage during a European summit.