The fatal stabbing in Copenhagen of a teen who refused to hand over his woolly cap to a group of youths has sparked an outcry among politicians and the public over spiralling violence in Denmark.
Since the end of December there have been 13 knifings, including two fatal stabbings, in the small Scandinavian country, prompting authorities to take steps to stem the wave of ruthless attacks.
AdvertisementAnton Njie Hansen, a 19-year-old boy with no history of trouble, was stabbed to death on January 5 in Copenhagen's central and upmarket Kongens Nytorv square by three youths when he refused to give them his hat.
The trio, aged 19 to 21, were arrested and now each risk up to 10 years in prison.
The killing sent shockwaves through the country, occupying news headlines for weeks amid a massive outpouring of grief for the senseless loss of life.
Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen lamented the tragedy, and went so far as to qualify as 'idiots those who carry knives.'
Shocked by the rise in violence in this normally-peaceful country, more than 80,000 Danes, including Justice Minister Lene Espersen, have signed a petition on Facebook entitled 'People Who Carry Knives Are Idiots' started by a young student.
Owning a hobby knife is popular in Denmark, but knives are also the weapon of choice since gun laws are strict.
More than three weeks after Anton's death, people continue to place flowers, sympathy notes and lit candles at the spot in the street where he died.
On the evening of his funeral on January 16, hundreds of high school students marched in a torchlight procession in his honour.
Fourteen-year-old Ditte, her eyes filled with tears, said she was disturbed to discover that it was 'a boy from a wealthy family who allegedly committed the crime'.
And her friend Lene, 15, added: 'You just can't be afraid, you can't go around thinking that Copenhagen has become a dangerous city otherwise all the teenagers will carry knives with them when they go out.'
But on the night of Anton's killing three other attacks took place in Copenhagen using either knives or iron bars, in muggings or robberies that yielded the attackers mobile phones, pocket money and iPods.
Faced with the onslaught of brutality, Justice Minister Lene Espersen has proposed a new law that would see carriers of illegal knives -- knives with a blade longer than seven centimeters (three inches) -- sentenced to seven days in prison.
And since 2007, police have been authorised to search people and cars in some troubled areas of the capital -- even without suspicions or a warrant -- as part of efforts to cut down on illegal weapons.
In 2007, the number of knives seized was 2,549.
Copenhagen Mayor Ritt Bjerregaard has meanwhile met with police officials to discuss whether or not to place video surveillance cameras in certain areas of the capital.
Authorities have also tried to reassure the public.
'Our city is not cut-throat. There are not more assaults than before, but they are more violent,' Copenhagen police spokesman Flemming Steen Munch said.
He recalled several recent brutal incidents: a motorist who nearly died after being shot for honking her horn; a 15-year-old girl who was violently abused for two days by five girls and three boys over a debt of 2,000 kroner (270 euros, 395 dollars).
While violent crime in Copenhagen may not be on the rise statistically, it is increasing nationwide.
According to police figures there were 1,176 indictments for aggravated assault in Denmark in 2006, compared to 793 in 2000.
And even the police have fallen victim: in 10 years, assaults on police officers by under-18s have risen eight-fold, from 18 in 1996 to 145 in 2006, according to data from the justice ministry.
'We need to act quickly to get youths back on the right track, as soon as they start flirting with crime, and involve their parents, friends and the police,' the justice minister said.
But not everyone is pleased about the crackdown.
The head of the Danish bar association, Henrik Stagehorn, has warned against 'increased surveillance of citizens' and 'the danger of Big Brother', amid fears that the 'current debate could develop into an attack on the rule of law.'
'I'm convinced that we haven't seen the end of this infringement on civil liberties, and the question is: what will be the next measure?'
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