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Military planes ready to evacuate Swedes

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10:25 CET+01:00
Military planes are on standby to evacuate Swedish soldiers and civilians from areas affected by the furore surrounding the cartoons of the prophet Muhammad.

The move follows an attack by hundreds of armed demonstrators on a Nordic peacekeeping force based in Meymaneh, in northwest Afghanistan, on Tuesday.

Six Norwegians and two Finns were reported injured in the riot, which left at least four of the demonstrators dead. No Swedes were injured but six were in the base as part of an observation group.

"All available Hercules transport planes are at our immediate disposal," said Jan Jonsson, lieutenant general in the Swedish armed forces, to Svenska Dagbladet.

"There is a risk that the conflict in relation to the Muhammad pictures will escalate in the next few days with Thursday's Muslim festival and Friday's prayers."

The Meymaneh demonstrators, said to have numbered between 200 and 300, broke through a gate at the ISAF (International Security Assistance Force) compound, where they set fire to a vehicle and occupied a building from which they shot at the soldiers.

The troops retaliated with rubber bullets and tear gas, while Dutch and American fighter planes fired warning shots to disperse the crowd.

There are currently around 155 Swedish soldiers in Afghanistan. That will rise to almost 300 in March when Sweden takes over responsibility for the base in Mazar-e Sharif. Two Swedish soldiers were killed in November when a car bomb exploded in the city.

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