Danish police arrest 53 in drugs raid on Christiania

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The Independent Online

The hippy enclave Christiania in Copenhagen was raided by Danish police yesterday in an early-morning crackdown on the sale of hashish, leading to the arrest of 53 people.

The hippy enclave Christiania in Copenhagen was raided by Danish police yesterday in an early-morning crackdown on the sale of hashish, leading to the arrest of 53 people.

The raid marked a toughening of the authorities' attitude towards the community, an oasis of psychedelic-coloured buildings without government, cars or police. Residents banned the sale of harder drugs in 1980, but hashish has remained widespread.

Yesterday about 200 police officers moved into the 84-acre enclave at 5am in an operation which also included a series of raids on homes in the city. Helmeted officers tore down a few small woodsheds and removed some tables that were said to have been used to sell hashish.

Flemming Steen Munch, a spokesman for Copenhagen's police, said: "The raid is not against Christiania, it's against the hashish sale." Mr Munch promised that those people arrested would be charged with selling drugs and could face sentences of up to 10 years in jail.

Ministers claimed that they were not trying to target the community itself, and pledged that they will allow its residents to remain there as long as drug dealing is eliminated. But the Danish government, which relies on one far-right party for support, has taken an increasingly tough line on law and order issues and illegal immigration.

Yesterday's raid is the latest in a long-running guerrilla battle between the police and the Christiania community. In January, hashish dealers demolished their sales booths to avoid a crackdown they feared would lead to their eviction and end theunique Danish social experiment. Although the booths had disappeared, hashish was still being sold.

In fact, since January of last year 1,903lbs of hashish, estimated to be worth about Dkr45m (£4m), have been seized.

After yesterday's show of police force, Ole Wagner Hansen, the head of the department's drug squad, said police had seized some hashish but could not say how much.

Peter Plett, a spokesman for the more than 900 residents of the enclave, criticised the police actions. Mr Plett said: "The whole thing is a big media stunt. We have decided not to do anything unless they start tearing down our houses."

During the raid officers used ladders to dismantle store awnings along Christiania's Pusher Street, where vendors were selling hashish. Other officers tore down woodsheds of alleged drug dealers and removed parked bicycles before police lorries cleared rocks that residents had put up as road blocks to prevent cars from entering the area.

Yesterday's police crackdown was part of a nine-month investigation into illegal drug sales at Christiania, Mr Munch said. In recent months, police have carried out a dozen smaller raids.

The government has said that Christiania could remain an alternative-lifestyle community as long as residents obeyed the law, paid rent and stopped selling drugs.

The enclave took root in 1971 when dozens of hippies moved into a derelict 18th-century fort on state-owned land. In 1987 Christiania, the name residents gave to the fort, was recognised as a "social experiment" and people living there were later given the right to use the land, but not permitted ownership. The government now wants to end that agreement.

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