Police on Saturday dispersed hundreds of people who had gathered in central Stockholm to protest coronavirus restrictions set by the Swedish government. Authorities said the demonstration—the first major protest against the country's coronavirus restrictions—was illegal as it was held without permission, the AP reports. Stockholm police said on their website they decided to cut short the gathering just after it started when the number of participants exceeded the limits for public gatherings under pandemic laws. Video footage on Swedish media showed a sizable number of people without masks gathering in Medborgarplatsen square not far from the capital's Old Town. Local media estimated 300 to 500 people attended. Swedish tabloids Aftonbladet and Expressen reported that the demonstration was dispersed largely peacefully, though six police officers were injured after scuffles broke out with protesters who didn't want to leave.
Aftonbladet said the rally was organized by a group named Freedom Sweden, which it said believes that COVID-19 rules restrict freedom. "There are so many people in Sweden who have had enough of these restrictions, which are really unfounded, and want to put their foot down and show that we don't agree to it anymore," Filip Sjostrom, an organizer from Freedom Sweden, told Expressen. According to Expressen, the protesters included far-right activists, people against vaccines, and some families with children. In the beginning of the pandemic, Sweden, unlike most European countries, kept its society largely open with few restrictions, but the government has taken a substantially harder stance in the past few months. Sweden has had more than 13,000 deaths in the pandemic, while its Nordic neighbors Denmark, Norway and Finland, which chose to impose coronavirus restrictions much earlier, have a combined COVID-19 death toll of 3,777.
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