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One person stabbed, 8 others injured after Eritrean protest at Toronto park turns violent


At least nine people were injured when a protest of an Eritrean festival being held at a west-end Toronto park turned violent on Saturday, prompting police to warn residents to stay away from the area.

Officers were first called to Earlscourt Park, near Caledonia Road and St. Clair Avenue West, shortly before 10 a.m.

According to police, there was a large crowd in the park and reports of a man with a knife, as well as a fight. Residents in the park told CTV News Toronto that some tents were set on fire.

Investigators later said there was a festival in the park and a counterprotest showed up. The two groups clashed, police said, and multiple people were injured.

Paramedics confirmed that one patient was seriously injured and taken to local hospital with stab wounds.

Eight other people have sustained non-life-threatening injuries, police added.

Officials indicated there are other individuals being treated by paramedics at the scene. It is unclear how many people have been injured in total.

Hours later, police warned residents to avoid the area and for festival goers to leave the park, noting they may not be able to guarantee their safety.

It is estimated that about 200 protesters remain in the area as of 2:30 p.m. A heavy police presence can be seen in the park as “officers from across the city are assisting in gaining control,” officials said on social media.

At around 4:45 p.m., the protesters made their way to the intersection, where they blocked traffic. One can be seen sitting on the road in front of a vehicle with his two arms up, forming an X. The intersection later re-opened.

No charges have been laid thus far.

Police attend the scene of a protest at a west-end Toronto park on Aug. 5, 2023. (Siobhan Morris)

The event is called Festival Eritrea Toronto, which has been billed as a sports and cultural festival running in the city between Aug. 5 and Aug. 7.

According to witnesses, people started gathering at the family-friendly event to protest the country’s government, which has been described by human rights groups as repressive. An election hasn’t been held in Eritrea since their first president came into power decades ago.

The protesters argue that events like the ones being held in Toronto raise money for the government of Eritrea.

One of the protesters told CTV News Toronto that violence is not necessary and that they just want these events cancelled.

“I want the Canadian public, the Canadian authorities, the Canadian police to know that this event is sponsored and organized by extreme loyalists of the Eritrean dictator,” Dawit Demos said. “The reason the regime is surviving until now is by getting finances like this events.”

“All what we want is this event to stop these people to stop financing and supporting the Eritrean government.”

However, Toronto festivalgoers said that what started as peaceful chanting on Saturday morning quickly turned violent, leading many to feel unsafe.

“They did not care for anybody’s wellbeing,” Rora Asgodom, a long-time festival participant, told CTV News Toronto.

“This is something where we are gathering as Eritreans, it has nothing to do with our political identity, we share different views but these people believe that anything that shows we are patriotic to our country or proud of where we come from means that we support that.”

Toronto police attend the scene of what they say was a "demonstration turned violent" at a park on Aug. 5, 2023. (Phil Fraboni)

Alejandra Bravo, the city councillor for the area, said in a statement on social media that she was “shocked and saddened to hear of the violence that broke out during a political protest of a festival in Earlscourt Park.”

In a subsequent statement Saturday afternoon, the councillor condemned the “violent attack” that left the community shaken, saying, “use of violence as an intimidation tactic is never acceptable.”

Bravo added that she went to the park and spoke to community leaders, city staff and police.

“This remains an active situation under the purview of Toronto Police Service. Please continue to give them time and space for their response and investigation.”

An Eritrea-themed festival in Stockholm recently experienced violence as thousands of protesters set booths and vehicles ablaze. At least 52 people were injured, according to Swedish media.

In July, 22 German police officers were injured after bottles and smoke bombs were ignited at an Eritrean cultural event.

With files from the Associated Press Top Stories

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