Persson attends Arafat funeral

Prime Minister Göran Persson is one of the few non-Muslim heads of government, and the only EU leader, to attend Yasser Arafat’s funeral in Cairo.

Persson led Sweden’s tributes to the Palestinian leader, who died in a Paris hospital on Thursday. Persson said that he felt “sadness” for the passing of a “great political leader”, reported Dagens Nyheter. He was less equivocal in his praise of Arafat than many of his counterparts in other countries, and credited Arafat with creating a national identity for the Palestinian people.

“I hope and believe that we will see a peaceful transition of power to a new Palestinian leadership,” he added.

While most other Western countries will be represented at the funeral by their foreign ministers, Persson has opted to attend the ceremony in person. This reflects Sweden’s longstanding close relationship with the Palestinian leadership.

Further tributes to Arafat came from former Swedish foreign minister, Sten Andersson. The Social Democrat politician was one of the few Western politicians to get close to Arafat, reported Aftonbladet.

Andersson said that he had become friends with Arafat over the years. “I was an honest friend to him,” he said. “We had many heated discussions about human rights, and in the end he developed a faith in Sweden.”

Arafat was “open-hearted, even about his private life,” added Andersson, although he admitted that the Palestinian leader could be temperamental.

Further tributes came from the Palestinian community in Sweden. Göteborgs Posten said that Palestinians in Gothenburg had gathered at the offices of a local group that campaigns for the rights of Palestinian refugees.

“Arafat was like a father for the Palestinian people – it will be hard to replace him,” said the group’s chairman Abdul Halim.

Others, however, had mixed feelings. Monzer al-Sabini, who also works for Palestinians’ ‘right to return’, said that while Arafat was a symbol for his cause, his death was a chance to reflect and to “start on a new democratic process.”

More strident criticism of Arafat came in Svenska Dagbladet. In a leader published on Wednesday, shortly before his death, the paper noted that Arafat was “sometimes praised as an apostle of peace – not least in Sweden,” but went on to criticise the Palestinian leader for “at first not wanting peace, and then not daring to choose peace when it was possible.”

Sources: Dagens Nyheter, Svenska Dagbladet, Aftonbladet, Göteborgs Posten


Sweden’s right-wing parties agree to bring back Norlén as Speaker 

The four parties backing Moderate leader Ulf Kristersson as prime minister on Sunday announced that they had agreed to keep the current Speaker, Andreas Norlén in place, when the role is put to a vote as parliament opens on Monday.

Sweden's right-wing parties agree to bring back Norlén as Speaker 

The parties won a three-seat majority over the bloc led by the incumbent Social Democrats in Sweden’s general election on September 11th, and are currently in the middle of negotiating how they will form Sweden’s next government. 

Sweden’s parliament meets at 11am for the official installation of the 349 MPs for this mandate period. The votes for the Speaker and three Deputy Speakers are the first item on the agenda, after which the parties each select their parliamentary leaders and then vote on who should chair each of the parliamentary committees. 

READ ALSO: What happens next as parliament reopens? 

In a joint press release announcing the decision, the parties also agreed that the Sweden Democrats would be given eight of the 16 chairmanships the bloc will have of parliamentary committees in the next parliament, and that MPs for all four parties would back Julia Kronlid, the Sweden Democrats’ Second Deputy Leader, as the second deputy Speaker, serving under Norlén. 

In the press release, the parties said that Norlén had over the last four years shown that he has “the necessary personal qualities and qualifications which the role requires”. 

The decision to retain Norlén, who presided over the 134 days of talks and parliamentary votes that led to the January Agreement in 2019, was praised by Social Democrat leader Magdalena Andersson. 

Norlén, she said in a statement, had “managed his responsibilities well over the past four years and been a good representative of Sweden’s Riksdag.” 

The decision to appoint Kronlid was opposed by both the Left Party and the Green Party, who said that she supported tightening abortion legislation, and did not believe in evolution.

The Green Party’s joint leader Märta Stenevi said that her party “did not have confidence in Julia Kronlid”, pointing to an interview she gave in 2014 when she said she did not believe that humans were descended from apes.

The party has proposed its finance spokesperson Janine Alm Ericson as a rival candidate. 

The Left Party said it was planning to vote for the Centre Party’s candidate for the post second deputy Speaker in the hope of blocking Kronlid as a candidate.