Freivalds regrets suffering of tsunami Swedes

Sweden's Foreign Minister Laila Freivalds appeared before the parliamentary constitution committee's inquiry into the Swedish government's response to the tsunami disaster on Thursday morning.

Freivalds, who has been widely criticised for her response after the catastrophe, has been threatened with a vote of no confidence in parliament.

Her appearance before the committee began at 8am – followed by the Prime Minister Göran Persson at 10am.

Freivalds began by explaining that before the tsunami on December 26th 2004 the Ministry of Foreign Affairs had worked well when faced by crises. But the catastrophe in South East Asia was not like any other crisis.

“It was a nightmare scenario which nobody had foreseen,” said Freivalds.

She claimed that the organisation had worked well but that it was undersized.

“That delayed our efforts and increased people’s suffering,” said the foreign minister.

“I and my colleagues regret that enormously, that extra suffering.”

Last year Freivalds was reported as telling the Catastrophe Commission that she did not follow the mass media when she was at home. On Thursday, parliamentary commission member Jan Ertsborn, of the Liberal Party, wanted to know if that was the case.

“When I’m at home I’m able to follow the media, not when I’m travelling or at the foreign ministry, and then I do. I’m a very curious person who wants to know everything,” said Freivalds.

“But there are occasions when I refrain from it out of consideration for my family.”

Freivalds explained that that Boxing Day, December 26th, was special since she had worked the whole of Christmas Eve on another consular matter.

“So I felt that now I had to show my family that they don’t always come second, so I didn’t follow the media.”

Laila Freivalds had no explanation for why it took until 23.30 on the Monday before the Swedish Rescue Services Agency (SRSA) was given the green light to go to Thailand. She said that earlier in the day she had declared that the agency should send whatever was deemed necessary, saying that “now it’s better to send too much than too little”.

During the day, Swedish officials were waiting for approval from Thailand, she said.

Meanwhile, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs was to make a decision on budgets and the defence ministry would give the job to the SRSA.

“At 17.30 the foreign ministry gave a clear decision to the defence ministry that we were prepared to foot the bill. I haven’t managed to find out what happened after that,” she said.

Peter Althin, of the Christian Democrats, pressed Freivalds on why she had not sought information and whether she was working on Boxing Day. She was also asked about her trip to the theatre on the evening of December 26th, and why she asked her press secretary if she could go.

“As far as I remember I raised the question. But he doesn’t remember that,” she said.

The conservative opposition parties are threatening to demand a vote of no confidence against the foreign minister – but have agreed to wait until after the inquiry.

Green Party spokesman Peter Eriksson has said that his party could support a vote of no confidence if nothing new emerged in the inquiry. That would mean that Freivalds would be forced to resign.

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