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Ericsson takes down flags in Middle East

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11:05 CEST+02:00
Telecoms giant Ericsson has taken steps to reduce its visibility in the Middle East following Saturday's threat by al-Qaeda in Iraq to target major Swedish companies if Sweden does not apologize for the publication in several newspapers of a caricature of the Muslim prophet Muhammad.

In a statement calling for the liquidation of cartoonist Lars Vilks and newspaper editor Ulf Johansson, the groups purported leader Abu Omar al-Baghdadi also specified a number of Swedish firms as potential targets.

"We know how to force you to apologize. If you do not, expect us to strike the businesses of your major firms like Ericsson, Scania, Volvo, IKEA and Electrolux."

With thousands of employees in the Middle East, Ericsson said it was taking the threat very seriously.

Managers have reminded staff to bear in mind security precautions advising company representatives to keep a low profile, conceal the company trademark and take extra care when deciding where to park, said spokeswoman Åse Lindskog.

"And today we have taken further action by removing all our flags to further reduce our visible profile. We are doing this in several countries in the Middle East," she said.

Visibility aside, however, Ericsson has no plans to stop doing business in the region.

"We are not a consumer goods company that has to preserve a distinctive image," said Lindskog.

Other companies have said they will wait for further analysis before taking action.

Ericsson and engineering company ABB are two of just a handful of Swedish firms with operations in Iraq. There are however a number of Swedish companies that export goods to the country.

"But there are very few, if any, that have permanent Swedish staff on the ground," said Sweden's ambassador to Iraq, Niclas Trouvé, who is stationed in Jordan.

"I don't think that either Ericsson or ABB have staff there. They primarily have people from the region working on a contract basis," he added.

The ambassador could not say whether Saturday's threat was legitimate.

"We're not the ones who make that assessment. That's the job of the police in Sweden, Säpo [Security Service], the Ministry for Foreign Affairs and other analysts," he said.

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