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Archive for the ‘Nordic Land of Sweden’ Category

Sweden’s center-left PM loses confidence vote

September 25, 2018

STOCKHOLM (AP) — Sweden’s prime minister lost a vote of confidence in parliament on Tuesday after an election this month stripped him of his majority. Stefan Lofven, the leader of the Social Democratic Party who has been prime minister for four years, will continue in a caretaker role until a new government can be formed that has the command of the Riksdagen.

Lawmakers voted 204-142 against Lofven, while three abstained. The vote was mandatory after the Sept. 9 general election delivered a hung parliament. Though Lofven remains optimistic that he may be able to form a government, the vote means Sweden faces weeks of political uncertainty. Both main political blocs in the parliament have refused to cooperate with the anti-immigrant Sweden Democrats, which made great strides in the election.

Neither the left-leaning bloc led by the Social Democrats nor the Moderates-led center-right opposition managed to secure a majority in the 349-seat parliament. In the election, the Social Democrats got 28.3 percent of the vote while the Moderate Party received 19.8 percent and the Sweden Democrats 17.5 percent. The center-left and center-right blocs control respectively 144 and 143 seats while the Sweden Democrats have 62 lawmakers in the assembly.

Andreas Norlen, a member of the center-right Moderates who was elected Monday as speaker, is charged with trying to find someone in parliament who may be able to command a majority and to form a government. He alone decides which of the party leaders can begin these talks.

Lofven remained optimistic he could form a governing coalition but stopped short of saying with whom. “I am available for talks,” Lofven said after the vote. Lofven ruled out having any contacts with the Sweden Democrats, saying “time after time, their connections to racist and Nazi organizations have been exposed.”

Jan M. Olsen in Copenhagen contributed to this report.

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Sweden faces weeks of uncertainty after close election

September 10, 2018

STOCKHOLM (AP) — Sweden was looking at weeks of uncertainty and complex coalition talks after the country’s two rival blocs failed to secure a clear governing majority in elections that saw a boost for a far-right party — considered political pariahs — amid growing discontent with large-scale immigration.

The governing center-left bloc had a razor-thin edge over the center-right opposition Alliance, with roughly 40 percent each. However, both have vowed not to work with the Sweden Democrats, an anti-immigrant party with roots in a neo-Nazi movement, that won 17.6 percent in Sunday’s election, up from the 13 percent it gained four years earlier.

The party, which has worked to moderate its image in past years and wants the country to leave the European Union, gained votes amid a backlash against the challenges of integrating hundreds of thousands of immigrants who arrived in the Scandinavian nation over the past years.

Prime Minister Stefan Lofven, who brought the Social Democrats to power in 2014, said he intended to remain in the job. His party emerged with the greatest share of the vote — 28.4 percent as the count neared completion — yet looking at holding fewer parliament seats than four years ago.

“I will not exclude any alternative to the (present) government. What I can exclude is any direct or indirect cooperation with the Sweden Democrats,” Interior Minister Anders Ygeman, a Social Democrat said.

“I believe that it must be the largest party in Sweden that forms a government. Historically it has been always been this way in Sweden,” he said. Political horse-trading began to try to form a government which could “takes week, months,” Ygeman said, according to Swedish news agency TT.

The leader of the Moderates party that came in second, Ulf Kristersson, has already called on Lofven to resign and claimed the right to form Sweden’s next government. The center-right, four-party Alliance has said it would meet Monday to discuss how to move forward and demand that Lofven, head of the minority, two-party governing coalition, resign.

However, the Sweden Democrats have said they could not be ignored in coalition negotiations and vowed to use its grown influence. “This party has increased and made the biggest gains. Everything is about us,” its leader Jimmie Akesson said on election night. “I am ready to talk with others.”

Final election returns were expected later in the week. The preliminary results made it unlikely any party would secure a majority of 175 seats in the 349-seat Riksdag, Sweden’s parliament. With the prospect of weeks or months of coalition talks before the next government is formed, Swedish tabloid Expressen headlined its front page Monday: “Chaos.”

Both the left-leaning bloc led by the Social Democrats and the center-right bloc in which the Moderates is the largest of four parties have said they would refuse to consider the Sweden Democrats as a coalition partner.

Lofven told his supporters the election presented “a situation that all responsible parties must deal with,” adding that “a party with roots in Nazism” would “never ever offer anything responsible, but hatred.”

“We have a moral responsibility. We must gather all forces for good. We won’t mourn, we will organize ourselves,” he said. Sweden — home to the Nobel prizes and militarily neutral for the better part of two centuries — has been known for its comparatively open doors to migrants and refugees. Sunday’s general election was the first since Sweden, which a population of 10 million, took in a record 163,000 refugees in 2015 — the highest per capita of any European country.

Turnout in the election was reported at 84.4 percent, up from 83 percent in 2014.

Jan M. Olsen reported from Copenhagen, Denmark; Frank Jordans reported from Berlin; Vanessa Gera from Warsaw.

Anti-migrant mood boosts far-right party in Swedish election

September 04, 2018

FLEN, Sweden (AP) — For Monica and Bengt Borg, a retired Swedish couple, Flen doesn’t feel like Sweden anymore. As they sit on a bench on the town’s main street, an Iraqi man nearby watches a Kurdish television program on his phone. Arabic pop music pulses from a girl’s phone. A constant flow of Somalis, Ethiopians and Syrians pass by, the women in headscarves.

“We don’t recognize our country as it is today,” said Bengt Borg, 66. His wife, 64, says she no longer feels safe walking alone at night due to reports of rapes by immigrants. Both plan to join a growing number of Swedes voting for a nationalist and anti-immigrant party, the Sweden Democrats, in Sunday’s general election.

The vote will be the first since the nation of 10 million accepted 163,000 migrants in 2015 — the largest number relative to the total population of any European state during the massive migrant influx into Europe that year. In the town of Flen, with just 6,000 residents, asylum-seekers now make up about a fourth of the population.

On a broader scale, Sunday’s balloting is also set to be the latest test for populist far-right forces as much of Europe shifts to the right amid a backlash to immigration. Far-right parties have made gains in several countries that shouldered a large share of the migrant burden, including Germany, Italy and Austria.

The Sweden Democrats have their roots in a neo-Nazi movement. Despite working for years to soften their image, many are not convinced, fearing the party’s rise could erode the country’s longstanding democratic and liberal traditions and identity as a “humanitarian superpower.”

Others, however, worry that the egalitarian ethos of Sweden — the first country to make gender equality a foreign policy priority — is threatened by the large number of Muslim newcomers. Support for the once-fringe party has swollen to around 20 percent — up from the 13 percent it won in 2014. Part of that success reflects disillusionment with the governing coalition between the Social Democrats and the Green Party, which has run the country for the past four years. The coalition’s earlier open-door policies toward migrants are now widely denounced.

While 20 percent would not be enough for the Sweden Democrats to lead a government, a strong show of support will give the party greater power to pressure the next government and could deprive the Social Democrats or the center-right Moderates, the country’s other major party, of a clear mandate.

The narrative of Sweden as a failing experiment of multiculturalism is backed by U.S. President Donald Trump, who caused a stir in early 2017 when he suggested an extremist attack had happened overnight in Sweden. The night, in fact, had been quiet; Trump had seen a Fox News report about crime by immigrants in Sweden. But he insisted his overall picture of the country was still correct: as one where large migration has brought crime and insecurity.

David Crouch, a British journalist and author of “Bumblebee Nation: The Hidden Story of the Swedish Model,” said Sweden’s unique high-wage, high-welfare social model and emphasis on progressive policies had long given the country a wonderful reputation as “a country which does things differently and gets things right.” That has changed dramatically in the past two years.

“Particularly with Donald Trump in power, a different, much darker, narrative has emerged of Sweden on the brink of some sort of social catastrophe, with talk about violence, shooting, rape, and so on,” he said.

Crouch believes that view is “not representative of the country as a whole.” Sweden’s economy is booming and creating jobs, meaning there is potential to bring newcomers into the labor market, he argued. He added that much of the message about a Sweden on the verge of apocalypse is a product of media with a racist agenda.

“If you are a racist and you hate immigrants, you don’t want immigrants coming to your country. So you take a country which has got a lot of immigrants and you say: that country is going down the toilet, this country is failing,” he said. Some with that agenda have reported “downright lies, things that didn’t happen.”

Voices supporting the Sweden Democrats have been amplified on social media. The Swedish defense research agency said last week that automated Twitter accounts, or bots, were 40 percent more likely to support the Sweden Democrats than genuine accounts. Swedish officials had earlier warned of Russian interference in the elections, saying Russia is seeking to create divisions by stressing the problems of immigration and crime.

A police officer in a southern Stockholm suburb who supports the Sweden Democrats acknowledged that it is an exaggeration to portray Sweden as so overrun by crime that there are “no-go zones” where police dare not enter, a common refrain by the European far-right.

Still, he sees real problems in migrant neighborhoods and blames mainstream political parties for a climate of political correctness that long prevented Swedes from openly debating them. “If five years ago you had said that we should consider how many migrants we take in, you would have been considered a racist,” the officer told The Associated Press. He refused to be identified because people “can lose friends and jobs” for supporting the party.

The Sweden Democrats have benefited by distancing themselves from their origins as a white supremacist movement. Years ago they changed their symbol, a flaming torch in the blue and yellow national colors, to a pretty blue-yellow flower.

Party leader Jimmie Akesson has also cracked down on open expressions of xenophobia, though some question how deep the changes are. Last week the Expressen newspaper reported that nine people left the party for voicing pro-Nazi sentiments. One had reportedly posted a manipulated image of Anne Frank in a sweatshirt saying “Coolest Jew in the Shower Room.”

Many Swedes don’t agree with the backlash against migrants. Some volunteer to teach Swedish to the newcomers, and some politicians even argue that as the national population ages and shrinks, the country needs even more to maintain what is one of the most generous welfare states in the world.

That’s the position of Hakan Bergsten, head of the local government in Flen, where an ice-cream producer and a Volvo maintenance plant provide some of the only industrial jobs in a rural area 90 kilometers (55 miles) southwest of Stockholm.

For Bergsten, the election can be summed up by a choice between parties “only focusing on the problems today, while others are trying to explain why we need to take this step” of welcoming migrants for the future.

Crouch, the author, said the nature of debate surrounding immigration in Sweden has changed so radically in the past years that “it’s hard to imagine how the issue of immigration was almost taboo.”

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

Sweden sends home foreign firefighters as wildfires die down

July 30, 2018

COPENHAGEN, Denmark (AP) — Foreign firefighters who helped their Swedish colleagues with raging wildfires in the past weeks have begun returning home as the fires die down, emergency authorities in Sweden said Monday.

Britta Ramberg, operative director of the Swedish Civil Contingencies Agency, said firefighters from France, Germany and Portugal have been assisting in efforts against dozens of wildfires mostly in central, western and northern Sweden.

Residents from a small town near the Arctic Circle who had been evacuated because of the wildfires were allowed to return home Monday, Sweden’s TT news agency reported. Ramberg says local firefighters now could handle the several fires still remaining. She added a few of the international helpers and equipment would remain in Sweden.

On Monday, Sweden’s center-left government earmarked 1.2 billion kronor ($355 million) to the country’s farmers hit by the extremely dry weather. Finance Minister Magdalena Andersson said the “crisis package” came after “a shortage of fodder for the animals … makes us feel very worried about the Swedish food supply.”

UN officials in Sweden for talks on North Korea, Syria

April 21, 2018

BACKAKRA, Sweden (AP) — The U.N. secretary-general and ambassadors from countries on the Security Council assembled Saturday in Sweden for an informal meeting on weighty international issues, including developments on the Korean Peninsula and in Syria.

The annual joint brainstorming session for the United Nations’ movers and shakers is being hosted this year by the Swedish government on the picturesque farm estate of Dag Hammarskjold in southern Sweden.

Hammarskjold was a Swedish diplomat who served as the second U.N. secretary-general before he died in a plane crash in September 1961. Talking to reporters before the meeting, U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres briefly commented on North Korea’s announcement that it has suspended nuclear and long-range missile tests.

He said he was optimistic about North Korea’s decision, saying that “the path is open for the peaceful denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.” Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Lofven said Pyongyang’s statement “clearly shows that when you have a unity within the (U.N.) Security Council, you can achieve things.”

However, Lofven remained cautious about the situation. “To speculate what would happen is perhaps a bit too dangerous, but it does look positive, yes,” he said. Meanwhile, Nikki Haley, the U.S. ambassador to the U.N., said diplomats were “still deadlocked” over Syria.

The meeting comes just a week after France, Britain and the U.S. launched joint airstrikes at suspected Syrian chemical weapons sites, saying Syrian President Bashar Assad’s government was behind an alleged chemical weapons attack in the town of Douma.

Haley said she and the other diplomats welcomed the working meeting as a chance to get a break from their normal routines “Retreats like this are very important for us to get away from New York sometimes and discuss these things in a way that we can really try and find a solution,” she said.

Guterres is set to stay in Sweden until Monday.

World’s First Road That Recharges Vehicles While Driving Opens in Sweden

13.4.2018 Friday

Sweden inaugurated on Wednesday the first road of its kind that can recharge commercial and passenger car batteries while driving.

The eRoadArlanda project consists of 2 kilometers (1.2 miles) of electric rail installed on a public road outside Arlanda Airport. The innovation was funded by the Swedish Transport Administration and is part of the government’s goal of fossil fuel-free transportation infrastructure by 2030.

According to the project website, the road works by transferring energy from an electrified rail to a movable arm attached underneath the vehicle. The arm is able to detect and lower onto the electrified section when the vehicle drives above it.

The road is divided into 50-meter sections, with each section supplying power only when a vehicle is above it. When the vehicle stops, the current is disconnected. The system is also able to calculate the vehicle’s energy consumption, which enables electricity costs to be debited per vehicle and user.

A diesel-turned-electric truck owned by logistics firm PostNord is the first to use the road. Over the next 12 months, the truck will stay juiced as it shuttles deliveries between Arlanda Airport and its distribution center 12 kilometers away, The Local reported.

“Everything is 100 percent automatic, based on the connector magnetically sensing the road,” Hans S?ll, chairman of the eRoadArlanda consortium and business development director at construction firm NCC, told The Local. “As a driver you drive as usual, the connector goes down onto the track automatically and if you leave the track, it goes up automatically.”

The developers claim that electrified roads can cut fossil fuel emissions by 80 to 90 percent. According to the project website, “operating costs will be minimal, due to significant reductions in energy consumption arising from the use of efficient electric engines. Electricity is also a cleaner, quieter and less expensive source of energy, compared with diesel.”

S?ll told the Guardian, “If we electrify 20,000 kilometers of highways that will definitely be be enough.”

“The distance between two highways is never more than 45 kilometers and electric cars can already travel that distance without needing to be recharged. Some believe it would be enough to electrify 5,000 kilometers,” he added.

According to the Guardian, electrification will cost about €1 million ($1.23 million) per kilometer, which is said to be 50 times lower than the cost of building an urban tram line.

“One of the most important issues of our time is the question of how to make fossil-free road transportation a reality,” S?ll said in a statement. “We now have a solution that will make this possible, which is amazing. Sweden is at the cutting edge of this technology, which we now hope to introduce in other areas of the country and the world.”

Source: EcoWatch.

Link: https://www.ecowatch.com/electric-vehicles-recharge-road-sweden-2559608067.html.

‘Allah,’ ‘Ali’ writing discovered in Sweden’s Viking graves

October 7, 2017

Viking-era burial costumes depicting the names “Allah” and “Ali” were discovered by Swedish researchers last week, raising questions about the relation between Muslim and the Scandinavian civilization.

Archaeology researchers from Uppsala University discovered the silk costumes with Kufic script during excavations in Viking graves located in Sweden’s Birka city.

Muslims use the word “Allah” for God, while Ali is the name of Prophet Muhammad’s cousin and son-in-law.

The Vikings could have been influenced by Islam and “the idea of an eternal life in paradise after death,” Annika Larsson, a researcher in textile archaeology at Uppsala University, told Anadolu Agency Friday.

“In the Quran, it is written that the inhabitants of paradise will wear garments of silk, which along with the text band’s inscriptions may explain the widespread occurrence of silk in Viking Age graves,” the researcher said in an earlier statement.

Similar Kufic characters were also found in mosaics on burial monuments and mausoleums, primarily in Central Asia, the university said in a statement.

In 2015, Swedish researchers at Stockholm University also discovered a ninth century ring in a Viking grave with an inscription that says “for Allah” or “to Allah.”

Following the ring’s discovery, researchers concluded that there was interaction between the Vikings and the Muslim civilization and the former carried Muslim goods to their homes.

Source: Daily Sabah.

Link: https://www.dailysabah.com/history/2017/10/07/allah-ali-writing-discovered-in-swedens-viking-graves.

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