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'Violent conflict' in Calgary involving 150 people may be linked to clashes within Eritrean community: police

Calgary police were on scene at a large violent conflict in the city's northeast Saturday.  (Terri Trembath/CBC - image credit)
Calgary police were on scene at a large violent conflict in the city's northeast Saturday. (Terri Trembath/CBC - image credit)

Calgary police say they're investigating a "violent conflict" between two groups involving around 150 people Saturday night that may be linked to clashes within the Eritrean community.

Police responded to an incident in northeast Falconridge at around 5 p.m. Saturday after reports of two groups with opposing views engaged in violence. They said they believe up to 150 people were involved, and many were brandishing weapons.

Supt. Cliff O'Brien said police were prepared with additional resources in the event of clashes like those seen elsewhere in the country.

Several people were taken to hospital by emergency medical services (EMS), O'Brien said.

"It was a very violent event. We have assigned detectives to investigate and that's what they'll do," he said, adding that police believe some people from the groups had stashed weapons prior to the incident.

Police were on scene at a "violent conflict" in northeast Calgary Saturday evening.
Police were on scene at a "violent conflict" in northeast Calgary Saturday evening.

Police were on scene at a 'violent conflict' in northeast Calgary Saturday evening. (Terri Trembath/CBC)

"They were actively trying to assault the police officers. I think the fact that we have multiple people injured, some with some fairly serious injuries, I think the whole incident is troubling. On top of that, this impacted the entire city because we had to pull resources from other areas," said O'Brien.

The Calgary Police Service said it considers this to be a serious event and has dedicated resources to keep the peace.

"This is not a protest. This is a violent conflict between two groups with opposing views," O'Brien said.

EMS spokesperson Adam Loria said in an emailed statement that paramedics attended an incident in northeast Calgary with the Calgary Police Service at approximately 5:30 p.m. Saturday, and 11 individuals with non-life threatening injuries were taken to various hospitals.

Michael Teclemariam, host of the Eritrean Radio Show on CJSW 90.9 FM in Calgary, noted that this isn't the first time a clash like this has happened in Canada.

Last month there was violence at an Eritrean festival in Edmonton, and a similar clash in Toronto. At those events, protesters from the Eritrean diaspora opposed events that billed themselves as celebrations of Eritrean culture.

"I am actually disappointed for the Eritreans because they're both brothers in a way, so it's not a good thing to have violence," Teclemariam said.

He said a point of contention is over festivals — some in the community say the festivals are connected to the Eritrean government, distributing propaganda and raising money for the state.

CBC previously reported that some view demonstrations as a chance to raise their voice in opposition to a repressive regime when those in their home country cannot.

Teclemariam said others see the festivals, which have been going on for a long time, as a way to celebrate and demonstrate free speech.

Daniel Egubat, public affairs officer with Eritrean Canadian Community Association of Calgary, wrote in an emailed statement to CBC that the organization would like to sit down with the City of Calgary and other government officials to come up with plans to avoid such events.

"We call all Eritrean society in Calgary to focus on what matters [to] them in their day-to-day life and also be able to use the power of logic," he wrote.

"This should not take place in our peaceful city and also elsewhere."