Sweden seeks to bury tsunami tapes

The contentious tapes detailing data traffic from the government offices in connection with the 2004 Asian tsunami are set to be classified for 70 years, according to a new proposal.

“Incomprehensible,” was the response of one freedom of information expert to the proposal.

The government has also proposed amending the constitution to ensure that the principle of public access to official records (offentlighetsprincipen) does not apply to the back up copies, according to a report in the Svenska Dagbladet (SvD) newspaper.

The tsunami tapes are back up copies of all the data traffic from the government offices on and around Boxing Day 2004 when the tidal wave catastrophe occurred in South-East Asia.

The tapes went missing around the time of the catastrophe and during the course of the subsequent investigation into (the former Social Democrat) government inaction to manage the crisis, which affected hundreds of Swedish holidaymakers.

They were rediscovered in a cellar at the government offices several years later.

When the tapes emerged the new right-wing government sought to have them classified for 70 years and were roundly criticised by heavyweight legal counsel on the Council on Legislation (Lagrådet).

In order to gain exception from freedom of information stipulations certain criteria must be fulfilled, this was ruled to not be the case, and the government was forced to back down amid a storm of criticism.

A decision was taken by the government and the parliament to classify the tapes for three years. The government has now presented a proposal to extend the classification of the contentious tapes for a further 70 years.

The proposal if passed would mean that information from the tapes could only be released if the information “does not risk damaging the work of the government offices.”

The new proposal has also received criticism from legal experts.

“It is completely incomprehensible, then the principle of public access to official records does not exist at all,” Anders R Olsson told the newspaper.

Olsson continues to argue that the government has still not been able to satisfactorily demonstrate the concrete nature of the threat posed by the tapes.

The government has previously claimed that the tapes could be used to decipher the nature of routines and work methods applied by the government offices.

To avoid coming into conflict with the public access principle, the government has proposed that the back up tapes be permanently excluded. This means that they would never be available for public access and would serve only for internal government purposes.

The tsunami tapes are said to contain information that is not available anywhere else and thus can not be excepted from the public access principle, legal expert Jeanette Gustafsdotter argued to the newspaper.

According to Gustafsdotter the government proposal is a further indication that the principle is being weakened and undermined.

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Swedish tourists weather Thai tsunami scare

The tsunami scare that followed an earth quake in the Indian Ocean on Wednesday, measuring 8.7 on the Richter scale, had tourists fleeing the beaches of Thailand and Indonesia for higher grounds.

Swedish tourists weather Thai tsunami scare

“It was chaos, everyone is running in different directions. We didn’t get any information. It is very stressful and everyone is crying,” tourist Mikaela Clausenius told daily Aftonbladet.

Clausenius told the paper how she and her family had received warning of the expected tsunami while they were lounging by the pool. The family followed the others up on the roof, where they stayed until they recived the all clear.

Similar reports started to come in from other affected areas. Another tourist wrote to the paper that he and his friends fled up to the third floor of their hotel.

“The staff have disappeared. We are on the third floor. We’re hoping it will be eough,” he wrote to the paper.

Swedish travel agencies had begun evacuating tourists from areas affected by the earth quake on Wednesday fearing the effects of a potential tsunami in the region.

“There are thousands of Swedes in the affected provinces,” confirmed Andreas Magnusson of the Swedish Embassy in Bangkok to news agency TT.

Travel companies Ving, Apollo and Fritidsresor on Wednesday urged their clients to leave the beaches of Phuket, Ao Nang, and Krabi due to the fear of a tsunami.

“We are sending text messages informing them that a tsunami warning has been issued and that they should get themselves to the safer areas in the mountains,” said Ving spokeswoman Magdalena Öhrn to TT.

“There are evacuation routes that the authorities in Phuket have made available so there is information everywhere of where to go during a tsunami alert.”

And according to Anders Jörle, spokesperson for the foreign ministry, all the embassies in the region are alerted.

Roberta Alenius, a spokesperson for prime minister Fredrik Reinfeldt, also confirmed that the prime minister and the government were standing by.

“The government’s crisis group is following what is happening closely and is working on following the set up procedures,” she said to TT.

The Swedish Civil Contingencies Agency (Myndigheten för samhällsskydd och beredskap, MSB), is following the events and are ready to despatch personnel to the area should the situation worsen.

“We could have many there within 24 hours,” said Stina Sjölin, of the MSB to TT.

However, later in the afternoon, Swedes who had headed for higher grounds started to return to their beach resorts as it became clear that the immediate danger was over.

“The situation has calmed down here now,” texted tourist Stefan Söderlund from the small island of Koh Ngai outside of Krabi to Aftonbladet.

The Local/rm