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'Syria's Assad should step down': Bildt

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'Syria's Assad should step down': Bildt
10:44 CET+01:00
Swedish foreign minister Carl Bildt on Wednesday called for Syrian president Assad to step down when delivering the government's annual statement on foreign policy, which also prompted a heated debate about the recognition of a Palestinian state.

”President Assad must step aside, and a process of democratic transition, representing all parts of Syrian society, must begin immediately. This is the only way to avoid a civil war, which would be devastating for the entire region,” said Bildt.

He also said that Sweden is concerned about the lack of progress in the negotiations between the Palestinians and Israel.

”We see considerable danger for the future in current developments. This applies not least to the continuing settlement policy... We look forward to the day when Israel and Palestine can live in peace with other, and when Israel can live in peace and security with the entire Arab world," Bildt said in his speech.

Following Bildt's speech, Social Democrat foreign policy spokesperson Urban Ahlin criticized the government's lack of action on recognizing a Palestinian state.

“We view the government as paralyzed and unable to provide a direction or will for a single reason. They are incredibly split,” said Ahlin.

He pointed out that the deputy prime minister, Liberal Party (Folkpartiet) head Jan Björklund, has said that Sweden can't recognize a Palestinian state before a peace agreement with Israel is in place.

“To let an occupying power like Israel decide when Sweden should recognize a Palestinian state, that's insanity,” said Ahlin.

Prior to the debate, Ahlin, along with his counterparts from the three centre-left opposition political parties as well as the party heads called for Sweden to recognize a Palestinian state in an opinion article published in the Svenska Dagbladet (SvD) daily.

“We are clear – it's high time for Sweden to recognize Palestine,” the leaders from the Social Democrats, Greens, and Left Party wrote.

“We demand that the government make it clear that Sweden will vote for Palestinian membership in the United Nations and thereafter quickly prepare for the recognition of a Palestinian state.”

In his speech, Bildt also said that Sweden will not remain passive if another EU member state or Nordic country suffers a disaster or an attack.

”We expect these countries to act in the same way if Sweden is similarly affected. We must be in a position to both give and receive support,” said Bildt.

According to Bildt the government wants Europe to be a strong voice and a clear force for peace, freedom and reconciliation in both Sweden's own region and the world as a whole.

This, he pointed out, has become even more important with the developments seen in the Arab countries over the past year, but continues to apply just as much in eastern parts of Europe as well, Bildt argued.

”I am referring here to the darkness in Minsk as much as the dictatorship in Damascus,” Bildt said.

Bildt stressed that being in a position to efficiently contribute to operations when the need arises is important for Sweden, saying that the government wants to be a credible partner, regardless of whether operations are led by the UN, the EU or NATO.

"In a world of shifting balances of power and interests, our (European) values – human rights, peace, freedom and democracy – are needed more than ever. These values shape our Swedish foreign policy. And Sweden will, with European partners, continue to promote them in our own region and globally, ” said Bildt.

Bildt also touched upon how freedom on the internet is ”the new front line in efforts for freedom in the world” and that this front-line is currently under severe threat.

”Increased demands for regulation and control, and censorship and surveillance, risk creating a new digital divide between those who have freedom of expression on the Internet and those who do not,” said Bildt.

He added that people's freedom of expression on the internet is the most effective way to combat the misuse of the net by authoritarian regimes for antidemocratic purposes.

Bildt flagged how Sweden will host an international conference in Stockholm in April on how freedom and openness on the internet can promote global economic and social development and that the country will also take the initiative for a European strategy for internet freedom.

Bildt spoke of the work carried out by consular employees abroad and the importance the challenges of a more global reaching tourism poses for those trying to aid Swedish citizens in distress abroad. Sweden has also been made painfully aware in recent years that the country must be able to deal with natural disasters abroad.

”Efforts to bring about the release of Swedish-Eritrean journalist Dawit Isaak are continuing. The two Swedish journalists who have been imprisoned and sentenced in Ethiopia should be released,” said Bildt.

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