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The Globe and Mail

Unemployment, grim public housing fueling riots in Stockholm

Fredrik Sandberg/Associated Press

When it comes to prolonged and virulent rioting, one thinks of countries steeped in debt and dissent such as Spain or Greece. But Sweden? That progressive idyll associated with high taxes, generous socialism and almost boring, Volvo-like stability?

Facing a sixth night of mayhem, with disturbances spreading to 23 suburbs, police reinforcements poured into the capital from provincial districts on Friday as Stockholm sought to put an end to a week of disturbance, the worst to hit Sweden for years. Youths have been setting cars ablaze and pitching stones at police. On Thursday night, around 30 cars were set on fire in poorer neighbourhoods in northwestern and southwestern parts of Stockholm and rioters caused widespread damage to property, including schools.

The recent violence appears to have been sparked by the fatal police shooting of a 69-year-old in the Stockholm suburb of Husby – the centre of the rioting. The man, who lived in an area where 80 per cent of the residents are immigrants, was wielding a machete and alleged to be threatening police.

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He was believed to be Portuguese, and local residents are accusing the police of ethnic discrimination.

Here are five reasons that fuel the anger:

Unemployment

The rate for those born in Sweden stands at 5.7 per cent, but for immigrants who come from outside the European Union, it's 16.5 per cent. That's not exactly hitting the Spanish heights of 27.2 per cent, but still represents a wide gap. Youth unemployment is especially high in immigrant neighbourhoods like the ones where the riots have taken place. One recent government study showed that up to a third of young people aged 16 to 29 in some of the most deprived areas of Sweden's big cities neither study nor have a job.

Income gap

Though absolute poverty remains uncommon, the gap between rich and poor in Sweden is growing faster than in any other major nation, according to the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development.

Slowing economy

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Having registered growth of 6.1 per cent and 3.9 per cent in 2010 and 2011, respectively, the Swedish economy slowed to just 0.8 per cent last year, largely as a result of faltering exports to the euro zone. Seven years of centre-right rule, meanwhile, have chipped away at benefits.

Geographical separation

Anger also comes from being told you don't belong. Sweden is still generous to its immigrants. But, as with Paris and its banlieues, Stockholm has pushed its immigrants out to its ugliest suburbs. To get to the city, where the money is, you have to take a bus, then a train. Even if Sweden didn't mean to isolate its immigrants in hideous towers, their location still sends a signal: You can live here, but you don't get to belong.

Grim public housing

Many of the riots have occurred in cramped neighbourhoods with tall, run-down housing blocks, part of Sweden's "million homes" project in the 1960s and 1970s. Long since abandoned by almost all of their original inhabitants, they are often the only source of housing for migrants and asylum-seekers from war-torn nations.

Staff, with reports from wires

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