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Persson backs out of debate at last minute

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17:44 CEST+02:00
Sweden's prime minister, Göran Persson, has dropped out of a scheduled televised debate with Moderate Party challenger Fredrik Reinfeldt at the last minute, claiming that he doesn't have time.

The debate was due to take place on SVT on Wednesday evening, following the launch of the Alliance's election manifesto. A similar debate between the two leaders had taken place after last week's launch of the Social Democrat manifesto.

Persson said he would send Mona Sahlin, minister for sustainable development, in his place, but Reinfeldt has refused to debate with her.

"If an election manifesto is to be discussed, you have to discuss it with the person with overall authority for policy. If Mona Sahlin is being put forward as the prime ministerial candidate, then that is different, of course," Moderate Party spokeswoman Ulrica Schenström said.

The Moderates believe that Persson made a deal following last week's debate that tonight's event would have a similar format. The party is also unhappy about the choice of Mona Sahlin, who has been pursuing a one-woman letter writing campaign against Reinfeldt. She writes letters to the opposition leader every day with questions she wants answers to, Schenström says.

K-G Bergström, who was to have moderated the debate, said he was surprised that Persson wasn't turning up.

"I asked him after the programme on the Social Democratic manifesto whether he would participate in this evening's programme, and he said yes. Of course I'm disappointed that he's not coming, and it is clear that he wanted to come. But I don't know what's happened in the Social Democrats' party headquarters."

Bergström added, though, that the programme would go ahead.

"We hadn't planned the same format as last time. We hadn't intended to have a debate between Persson and Reinfeldt. They have already debated," said Bergström.

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