Swedish police push back protesters outside Eurovision arena

Thunberg, wearing the keffiyeh scarf, was led away by police (Johan NILSSON)
Thunberg, wearing the keffiyeh scarf, was led away by police (Johan NILSSON)

Police were pushing back pro-Palestinian demonstrators around the Malmo Arena in southern Sweden on Saturday, where the Eurovision Song Contest final was taking place, AFP reporters saw.

More than a hundred demonstrators waved flags and chanted "Free Palestine".

Some wore keffiyeh, the Arab headdress associated with the Palestinian cause, including some wrapping them around their faces.

Climate activist Greta Thunberg was among them, but stayed clear of the altercations between the most aggressive protesters and the large police contingent.

She sat with other activists in a circle, but was later escorted away by police.

In the afternoon, some 5,000 people marched peacefully through the city, home to the majority of Sweden's population of Palestinian origin.

They were protesting Israel's participation in the music competition, an annual event for European pop music where organisers have insisted on being apolitical.

Around the concert hall, police officers were pulling demonstrators towards the many police vans parked in the area.

"You get the impression that they've been given carte blanche to be a bit more aggressive than usual," Sarah, a 45-year-old Malmo resident told AFP.

She had come to protest "passively", she said, adding: "I've never seen anything like it."

The police, who confirmed that they had used pepper gas, were trying to push the demonstrators back towards a square where a pro-Palestinian demonstration had been authorised.

"They sprayed pepper gas in my face, pushed me, I was even pulled," Sara Bo, 26, told AFP, showing her reddened eyes.