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Police defend decision to let neo-Nazis march through Gothenburg

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Police defend decision to let neo-Nazis march through Gothenburg
The march in Gothenburg on Sunday. Photo: Björn L
12:51 CEST+02:00
Swedish police have hit back at criticism after a neo-Nazi group was allowed to march through the streets of central Gothenburg despite not having an official permit to demonstrate.

An estimated 50 people participated in Sunday's march through Sweden's second-largest city, many waving Nordic Resistance Movement (Nordiska motståndsrörelsen, NMR) flags.

The demonstration had not been reported to the police beforehand and did not have an obligatory permit. Police and a helicopter were dispatched to observe the demonstration after witnesses called police upon seeing the group march through central Gothenburg.

The group was seen walking from the Liseberg leisure park via main street Avenyn to Gustaf Adolf's square, carrying banners with Nazi symbols and shouting various extremist messages, including slogans referring to Swedish police chiefs as "traitors of the people".

Gothenburg police received widespread criticism for not intervening to stop the march, with Centre Party leader Annie Lööf among several who took to social media to ask why not.

"Absolutely incomprehensible that they are allowed to demonstrate even without a permit. Enough now," she wrote on Twitter.

But Gothenburg police chief Erik Nord, along with several of his colleagues and experts, defended the decision, arguing that Sweden's freedom of speech laws also protect protests without permits.

"Even if you do not have permission to demonstrate, the demonstration has in principle the same protection value as a demonstration that has been granted permission. It is a public gathering and should be allowed to take place if it is possible," he told regional newspaper GP.

In a letter sent to Gothenburg councillors, he explained that the only people who may be guilty of a criminal offence in such a situation are the organizers, adding that police have filed a report about a public order offence, "but I am sure you understand it may be difficult to find the person who organized it".

Nord also said in his letter that he had not yet seen any evidence the protesters could be guilty of hate crimes, such as agitation against an ethnic group, which critics had argued.

NMR has announced plans to stage a march near a synagogue in Gothenburg on the holy Jewish holiday Yom Kippur. Sweden's main organization for Jews is appealing the police decision to allow the September 30th demonstration to go on as planned. 

In early July, the extremist group disrupted Sweden's Almedalen political forum a week after organizers decided to allow them to participate in the event.

A few week later, a man wearing a t-shirt that read "Revolution: Support the Nordic Resistance Movement" walked on to the court during the Swedish Open tennis match between David Ferrer and Fernando Verdasco, yelled Nazi slogans and raised his arm in a Nazi-like salute. 

On that same day, scuffles broke out in Oskarshamn after NMR began handing out flyers in the centre of the town.

The NMR, set up in 1997, promotes an openly racist and anti-Semitic doctrine, and its growing popularity in Sweden has caused concern in neighbouring Norway

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