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'Sweden Protest Was First Time I felt Hatred Toward Israelis' Print E-mail

By Haaretz Service and The Associated Press
March 7, 2009

ImageIsraeli tennis player Andy Ram spoke of his shock Saturday after rock-throwing demonstrators tried to storm a Sweden-Israel tennis match in the Swedish city of Malmo.

"They broke everything here and the images are distressing and disgusting," Ram said. "This was the first time I have come across such a demonstration and felt the hatred toward Israelis."

Dozens of anti-Israel protesters clashed with police Saturday in an attempt to storm the closed arena where the two teams were playing a Davis Cup tennis match.

About 100 people were apprehended and at least six were formally arrested for rioting, Malmo police spokeswoman Ewa Westford said. There were no reports of injuries.

The activists hurled rocks and firecrackers at police vans as they tried to break through the barricades set up to keep protesters from the arena. Hundreds of riot police pushed them back using truncheons.

The Israeli and Swedish tennis players only found out about the violence after the doubles match, which went ahead as planned. Sweden won that match in four sets to take a 2-1 lead in the best-of-five contest.

"We knew there were going to be a few thousand people screaming out there," Ram said. "Inside here we didn't feel anything. The police did a good job."

After the protesters dispersed, clashes continued in other parts of the city as police encircled groups of activists and took them into custody.

The violence started after about 7,000 people gathered at a square in downtown Malmo to hear speeches condemning Israel's offensive in Gaza and urging support for Palestinians.

Organizers of the Stop the Match protest had said the demonstration would be peaceful, but extreme-left activists had vowed to disrupt the Davis Cup series, which is being played without fans in Malmo, Sweden's third largest city.

Sweden's Left Party leader Lars Ohly told the crowd that the European Unionand the rest of the world "should boycott the racist regime in Israel."

Chanting anti-Israel slogans, the protesters then marched toward the Baltic Hall arena, where some of them tried to break through the police barrier.

About 1,000 police from southern Sweden were deployed in Malmo to keep the protesters from entering the arena.

Only about 300 special guests were allowed to watch the match because Malmo officials said they couldn't guarantee security at the venue. Critics,
including the Israeli team, said Malmo authorities were caving in to anti-Israel groups.

Ram said it was a stupid decision to play behind closed doors.

"Playing without a crowd is like playing a practice match," he said.
 


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