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STOCKHOLM (Reuters) - Sweden pledged on Friday to end a surge of gang violence in the southern town of Malmo as the latest in a string of shootings left a 16-year old boy dead.

Home Affairs Anders Ygeman said the government will do everything in its power to break the spiral of killings which have rocked the country's third biggest city, which has just under 300,000 people.

Over the past two weeks alone, the town has seen five shootings, of which two were fatal. While there are no official statistics on homicides in Malmo, local media has counted 12 in 2016, a record high and around three times more than London's murder rate.

The police force, already under strain from enforcing border controls at Sweden's main entry point for immigrants, has requested emergency reinforcement and Ygeman said he will travel to Malmo for meetings with city officials.

"The presence of police must improve in socially exposed areas and the people guilty of these crimes must be put behind bars," he told local news agency TT. "We are ready to offer the necessary resources and legislation to change the situation."

Malmo police have described the situation as "critical". The gang violence has included attacks with hand grenades, prompting Prime Minister Stefan Lofven to promise a quadrupling of penalties for carrying them.

District Attorney Ola Sjostrand said in November that the Malmo police's investigative capacity was on the brink of collapse and only this week the region's police chief stepped down in the face of fierce criticism.

Part of the strain on police stems from managing a surge of migrants.

More than 90 percent of all immigrants to Sweden enter through Malmo or one of its neighbouring municipalities. While the influx to Sweden dropped from record levels in 2015, when Sweden introduced border controls, some 30,000 people sought asylum in Sweden in 2016.

Adding to the strain is a comprehensive and heavily criticised reorganisation of Sweden's police force which has led several political parties and the police union to call for the resignation of national police chief Dan Eliasson.

Data from the National Council from Crime Prevention shows the number of criminal investigations that had reached the point where they could handed to prosecutors fell 10 percent in 2016 despite only a slight rise in the number of reported crimes.

(Reporting by Johan Sennero and Johan Ahlander; editing by Niklas Pollard/Jeremy Gaunt)

Reuters