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Reinfeldt: Persson 'will leave a gap'

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11:25 CET+01:00
Former prime minister Göran Persson has made his final appearance in a party leader debate in the Riksdag, Sweden's parliament. The man who defeated him, Fredrik Reinfeldt, used the opportunity to stretch out his hand to Persson's successor.

Reinfeldt said he had read a speech by Persson, delivered at the start of his tenure ten and a half years ago. In it, he had spoken of the need for partnerships to reduce unemployment, and stretched out his hand to other political parties.

"In exactly the same way, we will stretch out our hands to Göran Persson's successor," the prime minister said.

The new prime minister spoke of the unique position of power Persson had held, both in Sweden and in the Social Democratic Party, saying he would leave a big gap. Reinfeldt said Persson would mainly be missed for the way he had kept the public finances in order.

Four months after the election, Reinfeldt said he had already fulfilled the first of his election promises, that the purchasing power of an ordinary working-class family had been raised by 1,000 kronor.

He said that the Social Democrats and their affiliated union movement LO had bet their opposition to the move on the assumption that people couldn't read their own bank statements.

Reinfeldt said he would be busy this spring, with programmes to improve young people's situation and proposals for tax breaks on domestic services on the agenda.

Persson thanked Reinfeldt for his "kind words".

"Thank you for the recognition," he said to his successor, before launching an attack on the government for scrapping the law that banned expansion of the role of the private sector in owning and running publicly-funded hospitals.

Reinfeldt had broken an election promise not to sell university hospitals, Persson said.

But Reinfeldt maintained that no university hospitals would be sold, although certain parts of hospitals could get private owners, he said.

Left Party leader Lars Ohly attacked the government's changes to the unemployment benefits system, and cuts in labour market programmes.

"Social exclusion is being increased thanks to your policies. It pays more to be in good health and in work than to be in poor health and unemployed," he said.

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