Police in Sweden brace for violence ahead of Saturday protests against Covid measures

Police in Sweden fear that protests planned for Stockholm, Gothenburg and Malmö on Saturday, may turn violent, as opponents of coronavirus restrictions join a global rally.

Police in Sweden brace for violence ahead of Saturday protests against Covid measures
Several police officers were injured in the anti lockdown demonstration on March 6th. Photo: Henrik Montgomery/TT

“We’re expecting a lot of people, with a risk of crowing, and we are definitely going to need to remove people from the area,” Peter Ågren, who is leading the policing of the demo in Stockholm, told Sweden’s TT newswire.

Several police officers were injured at the last demonstration against restrictions, the so-called Thousand-man March for Freedom and Truth, on March 6th in Stockholm, when about 500 people attended the protest. Some of the demonstrators are suspected of crimes including violent rioting.

“We saw at the demonstration on March 6th that there are people who are ready to use violence against the police, and who did so,” said Ågren.

Demonstrations have been called in more than 40 countries under the World Wide Rally for Freedom banner, with demonstrations in Sweden being arranged in Stockholm, Gothenburg and Malmö, and perhaps in other cities. 

In Stockholm, the arrangers have not asked for permission, and according to Ågren, the demonstration is likely to break the eight-person limit on public gatherings.

“We’re struggling a bit, because there’s no party we can plan this together with so that the demonstrations can be carried out in a way that limits the spread of infection and follows the rules imposed during the pandemic.”

The leaders of the initiative are thought to be based in Kassel, Germany, and according to the investigative website Expo, the movement in Sweden includes people from the extreme-right, conspiracy theorists, and new age spiritualists who believe in alternative medicine.

Ågren said that police would be compelled to break up any group of more than eight people, but he said that his own officers would also have to make sure they were not exposed to infection.

“It makes it harder for us,” he said. “We can’t put them in a situation where the risk of infection in increased.”

He said that police would try to explain to demonstrators that they were breaking restrictions which are there to prevent the spread of infection.

“The challenge for us is that these are people who deny that there’s any problem.”

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Did Sweden’s state epidemiologist really get a big job at the WHO?

For his supporters, it was well-deserved, for his detractors a case of failing upwards. But when Sweden's Public Health Agency announced this month that state epidemiologist Anders Tegnell was taking a job at the World Health Organisation, both sides assumed it was true.

Did Sweden's state epidemiologist really get a big job at the WHO?

Now, it seems, the job might not be there after all. 

At the start of this month, Sweden’s Public Health Agency announced that Anders Tegnell was resigning to take up a post coordinating vaccine work with the World Health Organisation in Geneva. 

“I’ve worked with vaccines for 30 years and have at the same time always been inspired by international issues,” Tegnell said in the release. “Now I will have the chance to contribute to this comprehensive international work.”

During the first and second waves of the Covid-19 pandemic, Tegnell shot immediately from obscurity into the spotlight, gaining such celebrity status in Sweden that one fan had his profile tattooed onto his arm.

Internationally he was hailed by lockdown sceptics for his reasoned arguments against overly restrictive measures to control the spread of the virus. 

His new WHO appointment was reported all over the world. 

But on Tuesday, the Svenska Daglabdet newspaper revealed that the job had not yet been awarded. A spokesperson for the WHO said at a press conference in Geneva that “there is some confusion”, and that “this is an internal question.” 

According to the newspaper, there is even “a certain level of irritation” behind the scenes at the WHO that Sweden acted too soon and dispatched Tegnell to a job that did not actually exist yet. 

“We have received an offer from Sweden, which is still under discussion,” the organisation’s press spokesperson, Fadela Chaib, told the newspaper. 

On Thursday, the Public Health Agency’s press chief Christer Janson conceded that there had been a mistake and that the negotiation had not been completed.  

“We believed it was done, but it wasn’t,” he told Expressen in an interview. “It’s been a much longer process to get this completed than we thought. There’s been a misunderstanding and we regret that.”