Tensions were high outside a downtown Toronto hotel Sunday as two opposing demonstrations were held ahead of a contentious Eritrean party, with one group condemning the event and the other voicing their support.
Hundreds of police officers, including members of the mounted unit, were deployed in the vicinity of the Sheraton Centre Toronto Hotel, where dozens of protesters from the two groups had gathered.
One of the groups, whose members wore blue t-shirts, called the hotel to cancel the party, which they described as a fundraising event for the Eritrean government.
Eritrea hasn’t held an election since its first president came into power decades ago. The group had said that the government has limited many freedoms and has forced military conscription, which has led millions of people to flee the country.
A member of the group, identified as Yafet, said the proceeds collected during the party will fund wars, child soldiers and “all kinds of illegal things.”
Yafet and his group were at Earlscourt Park on Saturday to protest the Eritrean festival being held there. At least nine people were injured when demonstrators and festivalgoers clashed. The two sides blamed each other for starting the violence.
A second group, whose members were mostly wearing white t-shirts, later showed up and appeared to be in support of the Eritrean government.
A CP24 reporter at the scene saw officers apprehend three people in blue shirts. Toronto police have not confirmed the arrests.
Just after 7 p.m., the protest escalated when two guests at the party arrived in a limousine and were quickly surrounded by the blue-shirt protesters.
Police quickly move in to break the scuffle and escort the two people inside.
Protesters were then seen crowding the entrances of the hotel, shouting their frustrations with the event. The mounted unit would then trot toward the crowd to disperse them.
Police have blocked Queen Street West from University Avenue to Bay Street as well as University Avenue between Dundas Street and Adelaide Street.
– with files from CTV Toronto’s Katherine DeClerq