At least 190 arrested in Copenhagen street clashes

COPENHAGEN - Danish police arrested about 190 people in Copenhagen today in violent street clashes after authorities evicted left-wing squatters from a youth centre, a police spokesman said.

Authorities took control of the building in the multi-ethnic, working class Norrebro neighbourhood in an early morning raid. Members of an antiterrorist unit leapt on the roof from helicopters while police officers perching on a crane aimed water cannon through the windows.

After the eviction, scores of demonstrators threw cobblestones at police and set fire to makeshift barricades of trash cans and bicycles. Officers in riot gear chased protesters through the streets and police vans smashed through barricades.

Television footage showed crude weapons that police said they found in the youth house, including crates full of stones and shopping carts wrapped in barbed wire.

One officer and two protesters were injured, police said, including one protester who blew off his hand trying to hurl firecrackers at police.

Clashes flared up again in the evening after a call on the youth centre's website for a demonstration through Norrebro towards the house. Sympathisers from outside Copenhagen arrived by train and in cars to join the demonstration.

During the march, more than 1000 protesters threw bottles and bricks at the police, who responded with tear gas.

Later the unrest spread to near the hippie enclave of Christiania, where rioters smashed shop windows, overturned cars and set them on fire.

"We hope the rain and the cold will help us calm things down," said Flemming Steen Munch, spokesman for Copenhagen police.

According to Danish news agency Ritzau, at least 17 of those arrested are foreigners. Twenty-four people have been remanded in custody, and two have already been sentenced to 27 days in jail for assaulting police, Ritzau said.

The conflict over the youth centre has been simmering since 2000 when local government sold the building to a religious group. Left-wing activists have used it as a base since 1982.

The current owners have a court order to have squatters evicted, which sparked several clashes last year between police and demonstrators.

The youths have sworn to protect the house and have repeatedly called for a political solution while refusing a proposal to move to another building.

"We made them an offer and I'm sorry that they did not accept it," Copenhagen Mayor Ritt Bjerregaard told a news conference after hurrying back from a ski vacation in Norway. "The police handled the situation very professionally," she said.

- REUTERS

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