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Swedish party leaders united on cartoon crisis

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19:39 CET+01:00
The crisis surrounding the publication of pictures of the prophet Muhammad in Denmark's Jyllands-Posten has led the travel company Apollo to cancel charter trips from Sweden to Egypt.

On Monday afternoon, foreign minister Laila Freivalds informed the leaders of Sweden's other political parties of the current situation.

"For once, the Swedish parties are very much in agreement. We want the best possible relationship with the Muslim world," said the leader of the Liberals Lars Leijonborg.

Party leaders underlined the importance of separating freedom of expression, which the state will not involve itself in, and the cartoons, from which the leaders distanced themselves.

The leader of the Moderates, Fredrik Reinfeldt, said that they could perhaps be seen as agitation against a minority group. Leijonborg reminded reporters that he ripped up a xenophobic Danish publication on television.

"It is the dilemma of democracy that even those who want to say stupid things have the right to say them," he said.

Nobody at the meeting expressed any criticism of the foreign ministry's reaction to the crisis. The Christian Democrats' Göran Hägglund said he was satisfied that the government had consulted Sweden's Muslim Council.

Security at Swedish embassies around the world has been increased. Laila Freivalds said that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs had had telephone contact with around 20 Swedish missions.

"In summary, you could say that it's calm in most places, but they still need to observe great caution. It could be a false calm," said Freivalds.

The foreign minister added that she did not believe Denmark felt betrayed by the EU and the US.

"It is incredibly important to be clear that we will not accept attacks on Danish and Swedish embassies, and to be clear about what freedom of speech means," she said.

"By being clear about this, we help Denmark."

According to foreign ministry sources, diplomacy is the Swedish approach. The ministry does not want a major EU statement on the issue, as it would risk creating a new confrontation.

Sweden believes that the EU countries ought to encourage the international diplomatic corps in the affected countries to demand that their hosts improve security around the embassies.

In a press statement, the chairman of the Confederation of Swedish Enterprise, Michael Treschow, said that it is unfortunate that Swedish companies are being affected in the Middle East.

Charter companies Ving and Fritidsresor said they are following events but neither of them have destinations in Syria or Lebanon - where the foreign ministry is now advising Swedes to avoid.

Apollo has, however, cancelled flights from Copenhagen to Egypt. Around 100 Swedes are affected and all customers will be offered trips to Gran Canaria instead.

Apollo has also cancelled excursions to Jerusalem for visitors to Israel.

"We did that on Friday since the foreign ministry recommended that people should not travel to the West Bank, which our tours partly go through," said Apollo's head of information, Kajsa Moström.

TT/The Local

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