STOCKHOLM, Sweden — Around 300 neo-Nazis demonstrated in central Stockholm on Saturday, drawing boos from counter-protesters and politicians.
Under the close watch of a detachment of police in riot gear, members the Nordic Resistance Movement (NRM), an anti-European Union, anti-gay, and anti-immigration group, gathered in Kungsholmstorg square in the Swedish capital.
The movement had applied for permission to host a rally for some 3,000 members, far more than the several hundred the event drew, according to Swedish broadcaster SVT.
A six-hour rally was approved by Swedish police, who deployed a strong security presence around Stockholm’s Kungsholmstorg Square. But after just a few hours, the crowds wilted and a march was canceled.
At the edges of the square, hundreds of counter-demonstrators gathered behind a security cordon, shouting slogans and banging the metal barriers in a bid to drown out the NRM speeches.
Among the protesters was Swedish Culture Minister Alice Bah Kuhnke, who was born to a Gambian father and a Swedish mother.
Both the rally and the counter-protests ended peacefully without incident, an AFP correspondent said.
The rally took place ahead of Sweden’s September 9 general election, in which immigration is a key issue.
Sweden, which boasts a long tradition of welcoming refugees and persecuted groups, is experiencing a creeping rise in neo-Nazi activities in public and on social media.
NRM, which was founded in 1997, is a political party which openly promotes a racist and anti-Semitic doctrine and has been described as the country’s most violent Nazi organization by Swedish anti-racism magazine Expo.
Although the group counts a core membership of barely 80 members, it was more active than ever before in 2017, the magazine said earlier this year.
NRM says it wants to usher in a national socialist government.
For the first time in its 21-year history, the NRM will present a list of 24 candidates to run in the elections, although the party is unlikely to pass the 4.0 percent threshold to enter parliament.
One of its candidates is facing a police investigation for raising a flag on April 20 in honor of Adolf Hitler’s birthday.
Writing on Facebook on Saturday, Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Lofven said he wanted to ban neo-Nazi organizations.
“Democracy has always had the right to protect itself from the forces willing to resort to violence to destroy it,” he said.
The neo-Nazi march was among dozens of events held across Stockholm on Saturday, including an animal rights’ march that drew 500 people.
TOI staff contributed to this report.