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Archive for the ‘Land of the Frozen Scandinavia’ Category

Rights activists say Danes unaware of racism in their nation

July 02, 2020

COPENHAGEN, Denmark (AP) — Rights activists on Thursday accused Danish officials of being unable to recognize racism after authorities said the killing of a biracial man by two white men was not racially motivated.

“In Denmark, white people are colorblind. They cannot see that racism exists. That is embarrassing,”said Jette Moeller, head of the Danish chapter of SOS-Racism, an international association. “Of course, racism exists (in Denmark). We know that. It has been documented for years,” said Mira Chandhok Skadegaard, an assistant professor at Aalborg University in northern Denmark.

A biracial man was killed last month on a Danish Baltic Sea island. The Danish police, prosecutor, a defense lawyer and a white friend of the victim all say a personal relationship that went wrong between the victim and the perpetrators was the reason for the slaying, not racism.

The 28-year-old victim, who had Danish and African roots, was found on the island of Bornholm on June 23. Two white brothers in their 20s whom the victim reportedly knew have been detained until July 22 on suspicion of murder. None have been named by authorities.

Speculation that the killing could be racially motivated began after it emerged that the victim’s death bore some similarities to that of George Floyd, a Black man who died May 25 in Minneapolis after a white police officer pressed a knee into his neck for several minutes even as Floyd pleaded for air. Floyd’s death has sparked protests around the world demanding racial justice and condemning police brutality.

The Danish chapter of Black Lives Matter wrote on Facebook that “two brothers committed a racial murder on Bornholm” and posted a photo of a swastika tattoo, claiming it was on one suspect’s leg. “Let a judge decide” whether the slaying was racially motivated, Moeller told The Associated Press in an interview. “But it should be investigated as a racially motivated crime. Knowing those who killed him doesn’t rule out it could include some racial elements.”

Activists like Moeller see a pattern of denial in Denmark, which they attribute to rising anti-immigrant attitudes in the Nordic country. She also points out that Denmark’s freedom of expression should not be used to denigrate people, and the miss-use of that right has previously brought the Scandinavian country of 10 million into the crosshairs of Muslims around the world.

“Racism is about the effect it has on other people … One cannot use the liberty of expression as an excuse to taunt others, like Rasmus Paludan does by burning copies of the Quran,” she said. For months, Paludan, a far-right provocateur, has been touring the country and tossing copies of the Islamic holy book in the air before burning them before immigrants. This has sometimes led to brief confrontations between onlookers and police who have been protecting Paludan.

Last month, Paludan was convicted of racism, among other things, with a court ruling that “his statements were derogatory and degrading toward a population group.” He was given a three-month prison sentence, of which two were suspended, and his licence to practice law was suspended in part for three years. He has appealed the sentence.

In September 2005, the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten published 12 cartoons showing the Prophet Muhammad. This caused wide outrage among Muslims, who generally hold that any depiction of Muhammad is blasphemous and prompted often violent protests in Muslim countries. The newspaper — one of Denmark’s largest — said it had wanted to test whether cartoonists would apply self-censorship when asked to portray Muhammad. No Danish laws were violated with the cartoons’ publication.

It was the same daily that in January published a cartoon with the Chinese flag with what resembles viruses instead of the normal stars, sparking China’s anger. In both cases, the Danish right to freedom of speech was invoked.

In 2017, a 16-year-old Afghan boy was set on fire by four schoolmates but race was ruled out as factor. The four teenagers were found guilty of gross violence and the Afghan boy survived with burns on his legs and chest.

A 2018 report by the European Union pointed out that hate crimes in Denmark had quadrupled over 11 years, from 35 reported cases in 2007 to 140 cases in 2016. In Europe, “Denmark belongs to the tough group,” Moeller told the AP. “I believe that we’re on the right track as we start to discuss it, address it.”

She noted that a racial justice demonstration in Copenhagen on June 7 drew at least 15,000 people. Chandhok Skadegaard, who has been studying discrimination for decades, said Danes “are far behind when it comes to recognizing racism in our society. Sweden is several steps ahead of Denmark … as is Norway, and Finland and England.”

“People tend to not report discrimination, because they find it is not acknowledged or taken seriously by the authorities,” she said. In 2016, Denmark made international headlines when a law was passed requiring asylum-seekers to hand over valuables worth more than 10,000 kroner ($1,500), to help cover housing and food costs while their cases were being processed. Although the center-right government behind the move said it was in line with rules for unemployed Danes seeking benefits, critics denounced the law as inhumane.

Still, the law has not been changed under Denmark’s present Social Democratic government.

US opens consulate in Greenland capital

Copenhagen (AFP)

June 10, 2020

The United States has opened a consulate in Greenland’s capital Nuuk, the US embassy in Copenhagen said Wednesday, nearly a year after Denmark rejected President Donald Trump’s interest in buying its vast Arctic territory.

“The consulate is another positive sign of the strong collaboration between the U.S. government and the Greenlandic and Danish governments,” said US ambassador Carla Sands.

Washington received the green light from Copenhagen to set up the consulate last December.

At the end of April, Greenland said it had accepted an offer of $12.1 million in US funds for mining, tourism and education in the massive and coveted territory.

Greenland has its own parliament, but foreign relations are run by Copenhagen and the economy relies heavily on Danish subsidies.

Rich in natural resources, including oil, gas, gold, diamonds, uranium and zinc, and with the prospect of new maritime routes as a result of global warming, Greenland has attracted attention from the United States, China and Russia.

In August 2019, Trump floated the idea of buying Greenland, an autonomous territory under Denmark. Both Greenland and Denmark rejected his interest.

The last US consulate in Nuuk closed down in 1953.

Source: Space Daily.

Link: https://www.spacedaily.com/reports/US_opens_consulate_in_Greenland_capital_999.html.

Scientist admits Sweden could have battled virus better

June 03, 2020

STOCKHOLM (AP) — Sweden’s chief epidemiologist showed contrition Wednesday as criticism mounted over the Scandinavian country’s hotly debated method of fighting the coronavirus, which has resulted in one of the highest death rates per capita in the world.

Sweden has stood out among European nations and the world for the way it has handled the pandemic, not shutting down the country or the economy like others but relying on citizens’ sense of civic duty. Swedish authorities have advised people to practice social distancing, but schools, bars and restaurants have been kept open the entire time. Only gatherings of more than 50 people have been banned.

“I think there is potential for improvement in what we have done in Sweden, quite clearly,” Anders Tegnell of the Public Health Agency told Swedish radio. Sweden, a nation of 10.2 million people, has seen 4,468 deaths linked to COVID-19, which is far more than its Nordic neighbors and one of the highest death rates per capita in the world. Denmark has had 580 coronavirus deaths, Finland has seen 320 and Norway has had 237, according to a tally by Johns Hopkins University.

“If we were to encounter the same disease again, knowing precisely what we know about it today, I think we would settle on doing something in between what Sweden did and what the rest of the world has done,” said Tegnell, considered the architect of the unique Swedish pandemic approach.

Authorities in Sweden, including Tegnell, have been criticized — and have apologized — for failing to protect the country’s elderly and nursing home residents. But Tegnell said Wednesday it was still unclear what the country should have done differently. He also said other nations are unable to tell exactly what measures affected the outcome of their outbreaks because they threw everything at it in one go.

“Maybe we know that now, when you start easing the measures, we could get some kind of lesson about what else, besides what we did, you could do without a total shutdown,” Tegnell said. Asked if the country’s high death toll has made him reconsider his unique approach to the pandemic, Tegnell answered “yes, absolutely.”

“I’m not walking around thinking that we have a real disaster here in Sweden,” Jan Arpi, a 58-year-old sales executive, told The Associated Press. “I think we have it more or less under control, but we have to be even more careful now with the learning we have got from how the virus is spread, especially among the elderly people,”

Sweden’s infection rate is 43.24 deaths per 100,000 inhabitants is lower than Spain’s (58.06), and Italy’s (55.39), but is higher than the reported rates in the United States (32.14) and Brazil (14.29), according to the Johns Hopkins University.

Last week, the country’s former state epidemiologist, Annika Linde, said that in retrospect she believes an early lockdown could have saved lives while political pressure has forced the government to bring forward an investigation into the handling of the crisis.

The moves recommended by Tegnell have made Sweden a bit of a local pariah and didn’t spare the Swedish economy. More than 76,000 people have been made redundant since the outbreak began and unemployment, which now stands at 7.9%, is expected to climb higher.

Finance Minister Magdalena Andersson has said Sweden’s economy, which relies heavily on exports, will shrink 7% in 2020 and the Scandinavian country was headed for “a very deep economic crisis.” Last week, neighboring Norway and Denmark said they were dropping mutual border controls but would keep Sweden out of a Nordic “travel bubble.”

Danes said they will reopen the border next month to residents of neighboring Germany, as well as to Norway and Iceland, as it accelerates the easing of its coronavirus lockdown. However, Denmark, which has a bridge that goes directly to Sweden, has postponed a decision on whether to reopen to Swedish visitors until after the summer.

Jan M. Olsen in Copenhagen, Denmark, contributed to this report.

Finland in pain as border closure blocks Russian tourists

June 01, 2020

HELSINKI, Finland (AP) — Finns in the Nordic nation’s eastern border region say they haven’t seen anything like this since the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union. The closure of Finland’s border with Russia amid the coronavirus pandemic has put an abrupt stop to visits by the nearly 2 million Russian tourists who prop up the local economy each year.

Finland shares a 1,340-kilometer (832-mile) land border with Russia complete with several crossing points in what is one of the European Union’s longest external borders. It was shut down both by Helsinki and Moscow in mid-March due to the pandemic.

Given Russia’s sustained infection rate, there is little hope that the border will be opened for Finland’s summer tourism season — and many believe the border will likely remain shut even longer. “It definitely has had a big effect. You just wouldn’t imagine such risks relate to the border anymore in the year 2020,” said Petteri Terho, spokesman for the Zsar Outlet Village, a large upscale shopping area catering to both Finns and Russians near the Vaalimaa border station, the busiest crossing point between the two nations.

The closure has caused cross-border tourism to the South Karelia region, entry point to Finland’s picturesque lake district that is a favorite of locals and Russian tourists alike, to collapse overnight.

Above all, it has deprived local businesses of an estimated 25 million euros ($28 million) for every month the border remains closed. Finland has seen 6,859 cases of COVID-19 and 320 deaths but most have been in and around Helsinki, the capital. But in the South Karelia region, 250 kilometers (155 miles) northeast of Helsinki, only 24 positive cases have been diagnosed, with no fatalities so far.

Russia has over 405,000 coronavirus infections, the third-highest number in the world. It has reported 4,693 virus deaths, a figure experts call a significant undercount of the true situation.

“This is a whole new situation for all of us,” said Katja Vehvilainen of the Imatra Region Development Company, a local Finnish business promotion agency, adding that the South Karelia region enjoyed a growth of 15% in tourism last year. “The corona situation has unfortunately completely changed the direction.”

Still, locals remain unfazed, given Finland’s long history of dealing with the ups and downs of Russian tourism in the wake of its neighbor’s political and economic upheavals. The last tourism crisis hitting South Karelia took place in 2014-2015 when the value of the Russian rouble plunged against the euro, instantly denting visits by Russians.

“It looks pretty bad now,” said Markku Heinonen, development manager for the city of Lappeenranta, the region’s biggest center with 73,000 residents. “But the previous crises (with Russian tourism) have taught companies to prepare for something like this.”

The region hosted 1.9 million foreign tourists last year, most coming from Russia for shopping daytrips or longer holidays to enjoy spas, restaurants and lakeside cottages in an area known for its pristine beauty.

Lappeenranta, a key center for wood products, has been dealing with Russia since it was founded in 1649. It’s just 20 kilometers (12 miles) from the border station of Nuijamaa. From there, it’s mere 180 kilometers (112 miles) to Russia’s second city of St. Petersburg, whose population of nearly 5.5 million equals the entire population of Finland.

“Our business has dried up almost completely. One can say it melted away in one day (after the border closure),” said Mohamad Darwich, who runs the Laplandia Market, a grocery store catering to Russian tourists near the Nuijamaa border post.

Darwich, who arrived in Finland from Russia in 1992 after studying in St. Petersburg, listed fresh fish, cheese and dishwashing liquid among the most popular items bought by Russian visitors. He has reopened the store now for locals and hopes the border will be reopened by October at the latest “under an optimistic scenario.”

Citing a recent study, Heinonen said if the border stays closed until the end of the year or even beyond — a worst-case scenario — the South Karelia region is estimated to lose at least 225 million euros ($247 million) in tourism income this year and risks losing about 900 jobs, a large number in this region.

Locals are now eyeing domestic or European visitors as possible substitutes for the missing Russians this year. Ryanair, which suspended its European routes from Lappeenranta until further notice due to the pandemic, has indicated it’s ready to resume some flights in July, which could bring in western European tourists. But even the Irish airline has largely catered to Russian clients living near the Finnish border who used the Lappeenranta airport.

“There are plenty of summer cottages in the area and holidaying Finns around, so domestic travel is absolutely crucial for us,” said Terho, the Zsar Outlet Village spokesman. He said the venue reopened Saturday with high hopes following the Finnish government’s gradual relaxation of coronavirus lockdown restrictions.

Sweden steadfast in strategy as virus toll continues rising

May 26, 2020

STOCKHOLM (AP) — Sweden’s government defended its response to the COVID-19 global pandemic on Tuesday despite the Scandinavian country now reporting one of the highest mortality rates in the world with 4,125 fatalities, or about 40 deaths per 100,000 people.

“Transmission is slowing down, the treatment of COVID-19 patients in intensive care is decreasing significantly, and the rising death toll curve has been flattened,” Foreign Minister Ann Linde told foreign correspondents at a briefing in Stockholm. “There is no full lockdown of Sweden, but many parts of the Swedish society have shut down.”

More than 76,000 people have been made redundant since the outbreak of the disease and unemployment, which now stands at 7.9%, is expected to climb higher. Sweden took a relatively soft approach to fighting the coronavirus, one that attracted international attention. Large gatherings were banned, but restaurants and schools for younger children have stayed open. The government has urged social distancing, and Swedes have largely complied.

But opponents to the government’s strategy gained an influential voice this week after the country’s former state epidemiologist, Annika Linde, expressed doubt about the strategy adopted by the Swedish health authority. She said that in retrospect she believes an early lockdown could have saved lives.

“Most likely, we would still be a bit worse off (than other Nordic countries), but better off than we are now, and we would possibly have gained time to prepare the strategy to protect the elderly,” she told The Associated Press in a phone interview on Monday.

Sweden’s epidemiologist from 2005 to 2013, Linde headed the country’s response to swine flu and SARS and says she felt provoked by comments from a leading member of the health agency claiming Sweden’s strategy was the best in the world, irrespective of the number of deaths.

“I felt this can’t go on,” she told the AP. “Such a denial may prevent us from acting rationally.” Sweden’s health policy is traditionally based on recommendations issued by medical authorities and followed by the political leadership. But as the death toll mounts, Linde believes elected officials would have been more cautious in risking the lives of citizens.

“In retrospect, I think it would have been worthwhile trying the strategy of Denmark, Norway and Iceland and Finland,” she said. Yet for the Swedish government, it’s still too early to tell what measures have worked and which have failed.

“This is not a sprint, it’s a marathon,” Foreign Minister Ann Linde said. “It’s a good thing that many experts are saying what they think. We have freedom of speech in Sweden,” when asked about Annika Linde’s remarks.

The foreign minister said that the government wouldn’t hesitate to change Sweden’s policy “if we think that will be necessary.”

Coronavirus takes a toll in Sweden’s immigrant community

May 09, 2020

STOCKHOLM (AP) — The flight from Italy was one of the last arrivals that day at the Stockholm airport. A Swedish couple in their 50s walked up and loaded their skis into Razzak Khalaf’s taxi. It was early March and concerns over the coronavirus were already present, but the couple, both coughing for the entire 45-minute journey, assured Khalaf they were healthy and just suffering from a change in the weather. Four days later, the Iraqi immigrant got seriously ill with COVID-19.

Still not able to return to work, Khalaf is part of the growing evidence that those in immigrant communities in the Nordic nations are being hit harder by the pandemic than the general population. Sweden took a relatively soft approach to fighting the coronavirus, one that attracted international attention. Large gatherings were banned but restaurants and schools for younger children have stayed open. The government has urged social distancing, and Swedes have largely complied.

The country has paid a heavy price, with 3,175 fatalities from COVID-19. That’s more than 31 deaths per 100,000 population, compared with about 8 per 100,000 in neighboring Denmark, which imposed a strict lockdown early on that is only now being slowly lifted.

Inside Sweden’s immigrant communities, anecdotal evidence emerged early in the outbreak that suggested that some — particularly those from Somalia and Iraq — were hit harder than others. Last month, data from Sweden’s Public Health Agency confirmed that Somali Swedes made up almost 5 percent of the country’s COVID-19 cases, yet represented less than 1 percent of its 10 million people.

Many in these communities are more likely to live in crowded, multigeneration households and are unable to work remotely. “No one cares for taxi drivers in Sweden,” said Khalaf, who tested positive and was admitted to a hospital when his condition deteriorated. Despite difficulties breathing, the 49-year-old says he was sent home after six hours and told his body was strong enough to “fight it off.”

In Finland, Helsinki authorities warned of a similar over-representation among Somali immigrants in the capital — some 200 cases, or about 14%, of all confirmed infections. In Norway, where immigrants make up nearly 15% of the general population, they represent about 25% of confirmed coronavirus cases.

“I think a pandemic like this one, or any crisis will hit the most vulnerable people in society the most wherever in the world, and we see this in many many countries,” said Isabella Lovin, Sweden’s deputy prime minister, in an interview with The Associated Press.

Noting that the virus was spreading faster in some crowded Stockholm suburbs, Lovin said said the city is providing short-term accommodation to some people whose relatives are vulnerable. Sweden, Norway and Finland recognized early failings in community outreach in minority languages and are seeking to fix this. The town of Jarfalla, outside Stockholm, has had high school students hand out leaflets in Somali, Persian, French and other languages, urging people to wash their hands and stay home if sick.

With Sweden’s relatively low-key approach to fighting the virus that relies mainly on voluntary social distancing, there are concerns the message has not reached everyone in immigrant neighborhoods. “It’s important that everyone living here who has a different mother tongue gets the right information,” said Warda Addallah, a 17-year-old Somali Swede.

Anders Wallensten, Sweden’s deputy state epidemiologist, said officials have worked harder on communicating with such groups “to make sure they have the knowledge to protect themselves and avoid spreading the disease to others.”

But teacher and community activist Rashid Musa says the problem runs much deeper. “I wish it were that easy — that you needed to just translate a few papers,” he said. “We need to look at the more fundamental issue, which is class, which is racism, which is social status, which is income.”

“The rich have the opportunity to put themselves into quarantine, they can go to their summer houses,” Musa said. A key government recommendation for individuals to work from home if possible is harder in marginalized areas where many have jobs in the service sector.

“How can a bus driver or a taxi driver work from home?” Musa asked. Evidence of this disparity can be found in anonymous data aggregated by mobile phone operator Telia, which has given the Swedish Health Authority information about population mobility. By comparing the number of people in an area early in the morning with those who traveled to another area for at least an hour later in the day, Telia estimates how many go to work and how many stay home.

“We do see certain areas that are maybe more affluent with a bigger number of people working from home,” said Kristofer Agren, the head of data insights for Telia. Data shows a 12 percentage point difference between Danderyd, one of Stockholm’s most affluent suburbs, and Botkryka, one with the highest percentage of first- and second-generation immigrants.

“Many of our members have contracted the coronavirus,” said Akil Zahiri, who helps administer the mosque on the outskirts of Stockholm. “But you do the best you can.” Zahiri spoke to the AP as he sat alone in Sweden’s largest Shiite mosque coordinating a video call with the congregation to pray for a member who died of COVID-19. The sound of prayer crackled through the computer, breaking the silence in the empty hall.

During Ramadan, the month when Muslims fast during the day, the mosque canceled all public events. Zahiri reminded the congregation to take part in social distancing, urging them to stay home for the Iftar, the daily breaking of the fast after sunset, and to avoid sharing food with friends.

Associated Press writers Jari Tanner in Helsinki, Finland, and Mark Lewis in Stavanger, Norway, contributed.

In Sweden’s Arctic, global warming threatens reindeer herds

December 10, 2019

KIRUNA, Sweden (AP) — Thick reindeer fur boots and a fur hat covering most of his face shielded Niila Inga from minus 20-degree Celsius (minus 4-degree Fahrenheit) winds as he raced his snowmobile up to a mountain top overlooking his reindeer in the Swedish arctic.

His community herds about 8,000 reindeer year-round, moving them between traditional grazing grounds in the high mountains bordering Norway in the summer and the forests farther east in the winter, just as his forebears in the Sami indigenous community have for generations.

But Inga is troubled: His reindeer are hungry, and he can do little about it. Climate change is altering weather patterns here and affecting the herd’s food supply. “If we don’t find better areas for them where they can graze and find food, then the reindeers will starve to death,” he said.

Already pressured by the mining and forestry industry, and other development that encroach on grazing land, Sami herding communities fear climate change could mean the end of their traditional lifestyle.

Slipping his hand from a massive reindeer skin mitten, Inga illustrated the problem, plunging his hand into the crusted snow and pulling out a hard piece of ice close to the soil. Unusually early snowfall in autumn was followed by rain that froze, trapping food under a thick layer of ice. Unable to eat, the hungry animals have scattered from their traditional migration routes in search of new grazing grounds.

Half the herd carried on east as planned, while the rest retreated to the mountains where predators abound, and the risk of avalanches is great. Elder Sami herders recall that they once had bad winters every decade or so, but Inga said that “extreme and strange weather are getting more and more normal, it happens several times a year.”

The arctic is warming twice as fast as the rest of the globe. Measurements by the Swedish Meteorological and Hydrological Institute show the country has warmed 1.64 degrees Celsius (2.95-degree Fahrenheit) compared with pre-industrial times. In Sweden’s alpine region, this increase is even greater, with average winter temperatures between 1991 and 2017 up more than 3 degrees Celsius (5.4-degree Fahrenheit) compared with the 1961-1990 average.

Snowfall is common in these areas, but as temperatures increase, occasional rainfall occurs — and ‘rain-on-snow’ events are having devastating effects. The food is still there, but the reindeer can’t reach it. The animals grow weaker and females sometimes abort their calves while the survivors struggle to make it through the winter.

“We have winter here for eight months a year and when it starts in October with bad grazing conditions it won’t get any better,” Inga said. That is devastating to Sami herders, a once-nomadic people scattered across a region that spans the far north of Sweden, Norway, Finland and the northwestern corner of Russia. Until the 1960s, this indigenous minority were discouraged from reindeer herding and their language and culture were suppressed. Today, of the 70,000 Sami, only about 10% herd reindeer, making a limited income from meat, hides and antlers crafted into knife handles.

“Everyone wants to take the reindeers’ area where they find food. But with climate change, we need more flexibility to move around,” said Sanna Vannar, a young herder from a community living in the mountains surrounding Jokkmokk, an important Sami town just north of the Arctic Circle. “Here you can’t find food, but maybe you can find food there, but there they want to clear-cut the forest and that’s the problem.”

The 24-year-old is the president of the Swedish Sami Youth organization and, together with eight other families elsewhere in the world, they launched a legal action in 2018 to force the European Union to set more ambitious targets for reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Earlier this year, the European General Court rejected their case on procedural grounds, but the plaintiffs have appealed.

“We’ve said we don’t want money because we can’t buy better weather with money,” Vannar said. “We’ve said we need that the EU take action and they need to do it now.” The EU’s new executive Commission is expected to present a ‘European Green Deal’ on Wednesday, to coincide with a U.N. climate conference in Madrid.

Herders have also started working with Stockholm University, hoping to advance research that will broaden understanding about changing weather patterns. As part of this rare collaboration between Sami and science, weather stations deep in the forests of the Laevas community are recording air and ground temperature, rainfall, wind speed and snowfall density. Sami ancestral knowledge of the land and the climate complements analysis of data gathered, offering a more detailed understanding of weather events.

“With this data we can connect my traditional knowledge and I see what the effects of it are,” says Inga who has been working on the project since 2013 and has co-authored published scientific papers with Ninis Rosqvist, a professor of Natural Geography at Stockholm University.

Rosqvist directs a field station operating since the 1940s in the Swedish alpine region measuring glaciers and changes in snow and ice. But through the collaboration with Inga, she realized that less “exciting” areas in the forests may be most crucial to understanding the impacts of changing climate.

“As a scientist I can measure that something is happening, but I don’t know the impact of it on, in this case, the whole ecosystem. And that’s why you need their knowledge,” she said. Rosqvist hopes this research can help Sami communities argue their case with decision-makers legislating land use rights.

Back in the forest, Inga is releasing onto the winter pastures a group of reindeer that had been separated from the herd when the animals scattered earlier in autumn. Several other herders have spent more than a week high in the mountains searching for the other half of the herd and trying to bring the animals down, to no avail.

“As long as they are forced to stay there, they’ll get into worse and worse condition,” he warned.

Finland’s election topics: Climate change, welfare, aging

April 13, 2019

HELSINKI (AP) — Finns will be voting Sunday to fill the country’s 200-seat Eduskunta parliament after a campaign that saw debates over the country’s generous welfare model, its rapidly aging population and how far to go to fight climate change.

Here’s a look at the key issues and the main players in the election:

JUST THE FACTS

Some 4.5 million people are eligible to vote in Sunday’s parliamentary election in Finland and will be choosing between 19 political parties and movements.

Early voting is popular. Over 1.5 million people, or 36% of eligible voters, have already cast their ballots in advance. The results of that early vote will be published as soon the polls have closed Sunday at 1700 GMT (1 p.m. EDT), and fuller preliminary results are expected a few hours later.

CLIMATE CHANGE TENSIONS

Tackling climate change is a priority in a Nordic country that has one-third of its territory above the Arctic Circle, but there are clear tensions over what path to choose.

Finland is boosting its nuclear energy production by launching a new plant next year and lawmakers last month voted to completely phase out burning coal by 2029. Many parties back actions to fight global warming, include boosting the number of electric vehicles, cutting meat consumption through taxes or switching to more vegetarian food in public places like schools.

The populist Finns Party, however, has broadened its support by appealing to those who reject such sacrifices in the name of climate change.

QUALITY OF LIFE AND OTHER ELECTION TOPICS

Finnish voters have also been debating how best to preserve the country’s health and social system, which for years has topped global quality-of-life and happiness rankings and created a world-renowned education system.

There are some divisions over proposed reforms, which are getting more urgent since the country’s population of 5.5 million is rapidly aging. One plan aims to improve efficiency and reduce public spending by offering Finnish municipalities more freedom to choose between public and private providers for social needs and health care.

FINLAND’S MAIN CONTENDERS

Finland’s center-left Social Democratic Party tops a recent poll with 19% support, according to a poll this week commissioned by Finnish public broadcaster YLE. The party would still need to find coalition partners if it ended up trying to form the next government.

Led by Antti Rinne, a former finance minister, the Social Democrats plan to raise taxes and increase spending to preserve a welfare system that is under huge strain. The party has also vowed to continue the country’s pro-European Union stance.

Other key parties include the populist Finns Party led by Jussi Halla-aho, which is focusing on voters angry at urban global elites, and the National Coalition Party led by Petteri Orpo. Those parties took second and third places in the poll with 16.3% and 15.9% support, respectively. They are trailed by the Center Party and the Greens, who have strong urban support and back moves to fight climate change.

Finland’s outgoing center-right coalition government, led by Prime Minister Juha Sipila of the Center Party, pushed through an austerity package that has helped Finland return to growth after a three-year recession.

FINLAND’S OTHER BIG POLITICAL JOB

Finland will take over the rotating six-month presidency of the European Union on July 1.

Social Democrats appear headed back into power in Denmark

June 06, 2019

COPENHAGEN, Denmark (AP) — The Social Democrats emerged as Denmark’s biggest party in elections Wednesday, with preliminary results indicating gains for left-leaning parties and a big loss for populists.

If confirmed in final returns, the outcome pointed to the Social Democrats returning to power after four years as the country’s leading opposition party. The Social Democrats got about 25.9% of the votes after a campaign in which party leaders vowed a tough stance against immigration.

Mette Frederiksen, the party’s leader, said late Wednesday that the Social Democrats will try to govern as a minority rather than form a governing coalition with smaller parties. It will seek support from the right on some issues, such as immigration, and from the left on other matters, such as social welfare, she said.

Although Frederiksen won’t try to form a coalition, other left-leaning parties that increased their vote shares will likely support her effort to form a government to avoid the center-right from getting a chance. The Social Democrats and other left-of-center parties appear headed to having one more vote than a majority in the 179-seat parliament, the Folketing.

With nearly 100 percent of the votes counted, the Liberal Party of Prime Minister Lars Loekke Rasmussen showed a slight gain from four years ago. But the populist Danish People’s Party, which often voted with the center-right Liberals, was hit with a big drop in support, meaning Loekke Rasmussen can no longer muster a majority in parliament.

The Danish People’s Party’s performance was a contrast to some other European countries, where far-right populists have been on the rise. The party was the second-largest party in the outgoing parliament, but its vote share plunged to about 9% Wednesday, compared to 21.1% in 2015.

Loekke Rasmussen conceded defeat and would resign Thursday. “You have chosen that Denmark should have a new majority, that Denmark should take a new direction,” Frederiksen said told a jubilant crowd at parliament. “And you have chosen that Denmark should have a new government.”

At age 41, Frederiksen could become Denmark’s youngest-ever prime minister. “The election campaign is now over. It’s time to find solutions,” she said. Many Danish People’s Party voters have drifted to the Social Democrats, mainly because of it readopting tough views on immigration. The party advocated restricting immigrants in the 1980s and 1990s but softened its position later while in a coalition with left-wing parties.

Its lawmakers voted for several laws introduced by Loekke Rasmussen’s government to tighten immigration. “This is really, really bad,” People’s Party leader Kristian Thulesen Dahl said of his loss at the polls, but he said the party would not change its politics.

The Hardliner Course party didn’t cross the 2% threshold needed to enter Parliament. The New Right, another openly anti-Muslim group that also fielded candidates for the first time, will be in the legislature after getting 2.4% of the votes.

This story has been corrected to show that the name of leader of the Danish People’s Party is spelled Kristian Thulesen Dahl.

A look at the main candidates in Denmark’s election

June 04, 2019

COPENHAGEN, Denmark (AP) — A look at the main candidates in Wednesday’s elections for Denmark’s 179-seat parliament.

LARS LOEKKE RASMUSSEN

Loekke Rasmussen has been in power since 2015. He presently heads a minority center-right government with his Liberal Party, the center-right Liberal Alliance and the Conservative Party.

A member of parliament since 1994, the avid cyclist and jogger also was prime minister from 2009-2011, and earlier was interior and health, and finance minister.

Described as a skilled negotiator, Loekke Rasmussen, 55, has been at the heart of several scandals about using party funds for personal use.

His government has tightened Denmark’s immigration laws several times, bowing to pressure from the populist, anti-immigration Danish People’s Party, which isn’t part of the government but supports it with the needed seats to muster a majority.

METTE FREDERIKSEN

Frederiksen, 41, took over Denmark’s largest party, the Social Democrats, in 2015 after Helle Thorning-Schmidt lost to Loekke Rasmussen.

A member of Denmark’s Folketing, or parliament, since 2001, she comes from a working-class background. Frederiksen was minister for employment and justice in the Social Democratic-led governments of Thorning-Schmidt.

Frederiksen has insisted on forming a one-party government if her party can garner a majority. She started the election campaign with a 16-percentage point lead ahead of Loekke Rasmussen.

KRISTIAN THULESEN DAHL

He became Danish People’s Party leader in 2012 after its founder and leader Pia Kjaersgaard voluntarily stepped down.

A member of parliament since 1994, the 49-year-old Thulesen Dahl has in recent years changed his image to become folksier. He has managed to position his party and its 37 seats in parliament by supporting the center-right government in exchange for tightening Denmark’s immigration laws.

Thulesen Dahl has said his party shouldn’t be in government because it has greater influence by being outside. Polls also have shown people who traditionally voted for the Danish People’s Party are drifting to other parties, mainly to the Social Democrats.

PERNILLE VERMUND

Vermund, a 43-year-old architect, founded in 2015 the conservative New Right, which has an anti-immigration and euroskeptic agenda.

The party has been promising a stricter immigration policy in a challenge to the Danish People’s Party.

The New Right wants asylum only given to those with “a job in hand,” an end to spontaneous asylum, calls for random border controls and wants to limit Danish citizenship to people who “contribute positively” to society.

Vermund has said her party is “ready to withdraw Denmark from the EU and seek a looser connection if a satisfactory agreement for Denmark cannot be achieved.”

RASMUS PALUDAN

The 37-year-old lawyer came first to public attention when burning Islam’s holy book, the Quran. He did it across the country, often in neighborhoods with a large immigrant population under heavy police protection. Paludan said it was done to support free speech.

The burning of the Quran sometimes sparked violent clashes with counterdemonstrators. Police eventually issued bans, citing Paludan’s own safety.

In a video posted on Dec. 19 on the YouTube channel of his party which he founded in 2017, Paludan said: “The enemy is Islam and Muslims … The best thing, however, is if there are no Muslims left on our dear Earth.”

In April, a Copenhagen suburban court found Paludan guilty of racism for comments directed at the spokeswoman of an ethnic group and was given a 14-day conditional jail sentence which he has appealed.

Three years earlier, he was convicted of insulting a police officer and told the court that he sustained a head injury in a 2005 accident after which “he found it very difficult to tolerate other people’s mistakes without being very frustrated.”

In 2013, he got a five-year restraining order for harassing a fellow student and, as a lawyer, he has been defending cases where asylum-seekers had their applications rejected.

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