Police ban neo-Nazi march after all

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Fears of violent confrontations with counter-demonstrators have made police  think twice about allowing a neo-Nazi march in the southern Norwegian city of Fredrikstad this summer. Now it’s been banned, because of the potential for “serious disturbance of the peace, order and legal traffic” through town.

Fredrikstad is a popular destination in the summer months, and police feared a neo-Nazi march would “seriously” disturb the peace. PHOTO: Wikipedia/Thomas M Hansen

Police in Fredrikstad had earlier allowed the march by the Swedish-based Nordiske Motstands-bevegelse (The Nordic Resistance Movement), an ultra right-wing group that claims Norway and other Nordic countries are “occupied” by a “Jewish-Zionist conspiracy” that should lead to armed revolution. The group believes that Adolph Hitler was a great politician, that the Holocaust was a lie and that homosexuality should be prohibited.

The group appears small in numbers, with Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) reporting that it only has around 40 activists. At the same time, it’s been described as the largest and most well-organized right-wing extremist organization in the Nordic countries. It has marched in Sweden, and members tried to intimidate last year’s gay pride parade in Kristiansand in Norway.

Their application to march in Fredrikstad on July 29 was initially approved by the police in mid-May on constitutional grounds allowing freedom of expression. Since then, however, plans have emerged for counter-demonstrations against the march. Several groups have been mobilizing on social media to confront the neo-Nazis, who in turn are suspected of being keen to provoke violent reaction.

Fredrikstad Mayor Jon-Ivar Nygård of the Labour Party proudly accepted the government’s prize marking the city as Norway’s “most attractive” just last month. At left, government minister Jan Tore Sanner of the Conservatives. PHOTO: Fredrikstad kommune

Then the mayor of Fredrikstad, Jon-Ivar Nygård of the Labour Party, also urged the city to arrange a demonstration of its own in Fredrikstad the same day to promote tolerance, diversity and inclusion. “Let us show that Fredrikstad is a rainbow city, not a Nazi city,” he told newspaper Dagsavisen in early June. The mayor’s proposal involved making Fredrikstad torg (main square), its sporting grounds and parking places unavailable to the Nordiske Motstandsbevegelse. The city also decided to use Fredrikstad’s main public square itself on July 29, with a stage and sound systems to be used in a counter-demonstration.

The mayor’s proposal was unanimously approved by the Fredrikstad City Council, amidst some concern that the city was engaging itself too politically. Nygård himself argued that the neo-Nazis’ demonstration would hinder trade, tourism and travel in “the summer city of Fredrikstad,” and it would be up to the police to decide where the neo-Nazis’ march could actually take place.

All the plans for counter-demonstrations ended up making the police decidedly uneasy, and they have now decided to reverse the approval granted in May.

“We had said ‘yes’ to this demonstration, but we have worked for a long time to examine the security around it,” Steven Hasseldal, police chief for the Øst Police District that encompasses Fredrikstad, told NRK on Friday. “There have been developments that make the demonstration, and especially the counter-demonstrations, appear to be of an entirely different extent than we had presumed. There is reason to believe that the counter-demonstrations will be organized and potentially violent. We choose, therefore, to say ‘no’ to the application.”

Hasseldal mainly cited concerns for the security of citizens of Fredrikstad, which has a population of about 78,000 but also attracts many tourists during the summer months. The historic city is best known for its fortress river running through it, and it recently won a prize as Norway’s “most attractive” city. The city and region around it has also, though, won international attention for an immigrant community that has produced several Islamic extremists who traveled to Syria to fight for the terrorist group IS. The region has been working hard to promote better integration and its new cultural diversity.

“Given the large number of people expected to be in the city (on a summer Saturday), the event would present an unacceptable risk of danger to the public, buildings, vehicles and other property,” Hasseldal said. Security needs would also have strained police forces during one of the last weekends of Norway’s July summer holiday period.

“We will uphold freedom of expression and there’s a high threshold for us to say ‘no’ to demonstrations,” Hasseldal said. “Now we believe it’s right to say ‘no.'”

newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund