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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Sweden’s crime wave sparks nationalist call for army on streets

The Moderates then party leader Ulf Kristersson gives a news conference to announce, he's "almost ready" for the formation of a new government, on Oct. 12, 2022, in Stockholm. (Jonas Ekstromer/TT News Agency/AFP via Getty Images/TNS)  (JONAS EKSTROMER/Getty Images North America/TNS)
By Niclas Rolander Bloomberg News

A deadly wave of gun crime across Sweden has prompted the country’s second biggest political party, the nationalist Sweden Democrats, to demand military boots on the ground to stem the violence.

“We need to get things in place earlier than planned, because this is getting completely out of hand,” party leader Jimmie Akesson said in an interview at his office opposite Sweden’s parliament building in Stockholm.

He called the series of armed assaults and bombings that claimed 12 lives last month alone “a systemic threat” for Swedish society as a whole. “What we see in the form of shootings is really only the tip of the iceberg,” he said.

In recent months the intensity of violence between criminal gangs has escalated from levels that were already shockingly high. Even before September’s grim tally, the number of gun killings per capita in Sweden was about 10 times higher than in the U.K. In a rare televised address to the nation at the end of last month, Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson promised to crack down on crime and talked about expanding cooperation between the armed forces and the police.

Now Akesson wants to go a step further with a more heavy-handed response that would allow the military to use force. He stands a chance of success too. The nationalists have already pushed for many repressive measures that are being passed into law after his party threw its weight behind a center-right coalition government led by Kristersson following last year’s general election.

While parties on both sides of the political divide have called for stiffer sentences and an expansion of police numbers, the Sweden Democrats are seeking to strengthen their credentials by suggesting more hard-line measures.

Akesson says that a government led by the Sweden Democrats could give police the authority to detain people who aren’t suspected of a specific offense, as well as putting military on the streets of Sweden’s so-called vulnerable areas — where gangs have festered in communities dominated by high unemployment and people with migrant backgrounds.

“We have thousands of men and women who have advanced weapons training, and advanced training in tactics and strategy that could very well be useful,” Akesson said. “Just showing a presence would have an effect, I believe.”

The proposal, while contentious in a country where laws only allow for police to call in the army in the event of a terrorist attack, is gaining increasing support. On Thursday, the government said it would look into expanding the scope for military assistance to include organized crime.

The focus on law and order has helped Akesson increase the Sweden Democrats’ popular support in every parliamentary election since he joined the party more than two decades ago. At the time, it was a fringe group with roots in extremist organizations, and for many years to come it would be shunned by all mainstream political parties.

That changed after the 2018 election when the party gained more than 17% of the popular vote. Then, after last year’s ballot, Akesson emerged as kingmaker thanks to a campaign that relied heavily on proposals to crack down on crime and curb migration. He agreed not to take seats in the Cabinet, as his party remains unpalatable to many voters.

While the current arrangement has helped usher in many of the reforms Sweden Democrats have advocated, Akesson sees the setup as a makeshift solution. His sights are set on the top position in Swedish politics if the outcome of the next election, in 2026, is similar to last year’s.

“All the arguments against having us in government are falling one by one,” he said. “After the next election, there will be no arguments left.”

(Jody Megson and Gina Turner contributed to this report.)