Protesters Set Cars, Barricades on Fire in Copenhagen Over Evictions

Protesters erected burning barricades and set at least two buildings and four cars on fire early Saturday as a new round of violent street clashes hit Copenhagen, sparked by the eviction of squatters from a downtown building.

Hundreds of police officers in riot gear used tear gas to disperse the protesters, pushing away demonstrators and onlookers in order to allow firefighters to put out the blazes which sent smoke billowing into the night sky. By about 5 a.m. local time, however, police said the situation was mostly under control.

One demonstrator was injured in the downtown Noerrebro district, Copenhagen police spokesman Flemming Steen Munch said. A hospital official could not immediately be reached for details on the person's condition.

At least 170 people were arrested early Saturday morning, police said in a statement. Munch could not confirm media reports that there were many Germans among those arrested.

Shortly after 1 a.m., protesters gathered near a square a block away from the house from which the squatters were evicted on Thursday. The protesters briefly clashed with police and erected the barricades which they set on fire along with four cars.

About three hours later, a bonfire in the street ignited a blaze in a nearby building housing a kindergarten and an adjacent two-story house. Police said the fire was quickly extinguished and no one was injured. It was unclear whether anyone was inside either building.

Across the city, other groups of protesters set garbage containers on fire in the streets, and there were scattered reports of youths throwing cobblestones and clashing with police. One band of protesters entered a school and began hurling chairs, desks and computers onto the street.

But overall, Munch said the situation appeared to be calming down. While there are sporadic clashes with small groups of protesters, police are immediately clamping down when they occur, he said.

"It has been a dramatic evening," Munch said. "It has been a rather busy and sad night."

It was the second night of violent street battles. On Thursday night, demonstrators threw cobblestones, burned cars, lit fires and fought with police. Twenty-five people were injured and 219 were arrested.

The eviction angered youths who have viewed the building as free public housing for years. It has also been a popular cultural center for anarchists, punk rockers and left-wing groups, where performers have included Australian musician Nick Cave and Icelandic singer Bjork.

Justice Minister Lene Espersen said protesters "misused their right to demonstrate" when they became violent.

"I vigorously urge the young people and their supporters to regain their composure," she said. "Their anger must not unleash violence and vandalism."

In the southwestern Swedish city of Malmo, police arrested three people on Friday in connection with the Copenhagen clashes, the Swedish news agency TT said. They were held on suspicion of planning to participate in violent protests and possession of explosives and flammable material.

Sympathy protests were held in Hamburg, in northern German, and in Norway, Sweden and Finland.

The eviction had been planned since last year, when courts ordered the squatters to hand the building over to a Christian congregation that had bought it six years ago. The squatters refused, saying the city had no right to sell the building while it was still in use.

They have demanded another building for free as a replacement.