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Iceland’s Parliament under Siege

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Iceland’s Parliament under Siege

Thousands of people protested outside the Althingi parliament yesterday on the occasion of parliament reconvening. Protestors demanded that the government step down and early elections be held. The demonstration began at noon and lasted until after midnight.

People used pots and pans as drums and shouted their demands at parliament, Fréttabladid reports.

“We, the citizens of this country, are expressing our feelings towards authorities who act as if we don’t exist,” Hördur Torfason, leader of the Voices of the People, who organized the demonstration, said in a speech at Austurvöllur parliamentary square around midday.

In the back garden of Althingi, police resorted to the use of pepper spray, accusing protestors of stoning the building. Nearly 30 people were arrested but released after questioning. Protestors accused police of resorting to unnecessarily harsh measures.

At midnight, protestors set the Christmas tree on Austurvöllur parliamentary square on fire. Photo by Páll Stefánsson.

According to Morgunbladid, close to 200 police officers were at the scene.

“Police always use the measures necessary but don’t resort to inflictive action unless it is absolutely vital and other measures aren’t sufficient. That is the basic rule that we follow,” Chief of the Capital Region Police Stefán Eríksson told Fréttabladid.

Eiríksson claimed that protestors had hurled rocks and other objects at parliament building and that the police were obligated to defend the building. A few people went to the emergency room, seeking treatment for pepper spray in their eyes and minor concussions.

Steingrímur J. Sigfússon, chairman of the Left-Greens, Iceland’s largest opposition party, said demonstrators have simple and fair demands. The government has to decide whether it wants to comply with these demands, he said, asking, “Is there a better way to meet the demands of the people than to call for elections?”

Minister of Education Thorgerdur Katrín Gunnarsdóttir said the protests were getting out of hand. “We have seen protests with a clear message for the past Saturdays and these demonstrations are understandable. But when people start smashing windows and throwing stones at parliament, what purpose does that serve?”

In parliament, the opposition scolded the government, demanding that the Speaker of Parliament Sturla Bödvarsson cancel the session because of the protests. Bödvarsson replied that he would not disrupt the parliament’s work because “rioters are making noise.”

For a while, the protests subsided, but then people returned to Althingi for a bonfire on Austurvöllur—setting the square’s Christmas tree on fire. “People went home to have dinner and then came back. [The protests] will continue,” said Torfason. “It even seems that people are going to take turns to keep the fire alive throughout the night.”

According to Morgunbladid, this is the most extensive protests outside parliament since Icelanders protested against the country joining NATO in 1949.

Click here to read about other recent protests.

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