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Calgary police chief says Falconridge Blvd. clash was 'largest violent event' in recent memory


Calgary police say no charges have been laid in a violent clash along Falconridge Boulevard on Saturday that saw many people injured, but a task force has been formed to investigate who should face charges.

Chief Constable Mark Neufeld spoke about the large-scale altercation at a news conference on Tuesday, saying it was a "planned, targeted attack."

"We believe that the situation is linked to the ongoing conflict involving some members of the Eritrean community and is related to similar events we've seen transpire around the world," he said.

The clash began at 5 p.m. on Saturday, when two groups with opposing views engaged in a violent fight.

This year marks 30 years since Eritrea became independent from Ethiopia. Since its separation, the country has been led by President Isaias Afwerki. Millions of Eritreans have fled the country, which has no elections or free media.

The anniversary has been marked by several clashes between rival Eritrean groups, with events in Toronto and Edmonton, as well as a clash in Israel last Friday.

Neufeld says Calgary police arrived on scene to find people armed with weapons like sticks and bats, some even wearing helmets, engaged in a battle.

He says there were rocks, bottles and other projectiles being thrown and that arriving officers didn't have protective gear on.

"It was very dangerous," Neufeld said.

A dozen people ended up in hospital, some with serious injuries. Neufeld says it's believed those who were injured were involved in the violent conflict.

In total, it’s estimated 150 people were involved.

"This is really the largest violent event to happen in our city in recent memory," Neufeld said.

"This clash was centred around two separate events scheduled in the city's northeast quadrant," Neufeld said. "The scheduled events were peaceful in nature and all attendees are not to be blamed for the violence that transpired."

Neufeld said there were people and families who attended simply wanting to "take in a cultural event," and had no intention of "bothering anybody else."

"Some have asked if we knew, or if we were aware that this could happen… and the answer is yes," said Neufeld. "The Calgary Police Service has very strong relationships with all of the communities, including the Eritrean community. Our members knew about the scheduled events in the area, and also knew there was potential for violence based on the previous conflicts in Israel, Toronto and Edmonton."

He says officers worked directly with event organizers prior to the events to try to "ease tensions" between the involved groups.

"Once violence did break out, we were on scene very quickly and able to separate the combatants and quickly restore public order," Neufeld said.

"We do not anticipate any further violence," Neufeld added, noting that if there is, police will respond accordingly.

"We recognize the fear that this brings to nearby communities.

Neufeld said a majority of the property that was damaged belonged to people who had "nothing to do" with the conflict, including area residents and local business owners who are not very well-positioned to absorb losses "over something so stupid."

The Calgary Police Service is "not taking sides" in the Eritrean conflict, according to Neufeld.

"All groups have the right to gather and to assemble, and as soon as opposing groups set out to disrupt those events – and especially if they do that with violence or threats of property damage – that results in the law being broken," he said.

Neufeld stressed that those responsible will be held accountable for the criminal activity that took place.

With so many people involved, he said it will "take some time" for police to finish their investigation.

"In the coming days and weeks, we will also be asking members of the community to help to identity and locate persons of interest and people that we believe were involved," Neufeld said.

Anyone with photos, videos or information about the clash is asked to call police at 403-266-1234. Tips can also be submitted anonymously through Crime Stoppers.

"At the end of the day we cannot have this in our city. It's that simple," Neufeld said.

"There's no justification for the behaviour we saw. That was bananas."

Political analyst Lori Williams from Mount Royal University says the violence that erupted has been "counter-productive."

"It has made these Eritrean refugees, or those who have come in this case to Canada … It's painted them with a brush, almost as though they are ungrateful or disrespectful of the laws in Canada, which respects the rights and freedoms that they're concerned to advance," she said.

"Protest is one thing, violence is quite another, and that line has been crossed in a pretty sad way here."

- With files from Tyson Fedor, CTV News Top Stories

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