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SAUDI ARABIA

‘Foreign ministry refused to abandon Saudi deal’

The former head of the Swedish Fortifications Agency (Fortifikationsverket), Jane Cederqvist, wanted to stop the cooperation with the Saudi regime as early as 2000, but was told no by the Swedish foreign ministry, according to a new report in daily Svenska Dagbladet (SvD).

“I thought it felt unpleasant to be active in a dictatorship. Saudi Arabia is a developing country when it comes to human rights,” Cederqvist said to SvD.

On Wednesday the paper revealed that the Swedish agency has been cooperating with the Saudi dictatorship for over twenty years, a cooperation that has resulted in five gigantic subterranean fuel storage facilities in the country.

According to Cederqvist, the Saudis wanted to build the underground facilities because they feared attack, especially from Iraq.

The size of the facilities can be compared to a small city, according to Cederqvist.

“They’re not just storage areas, there is also a hospital and a subterranean mosque,” she said to the paper.

As director general for the agency, Cederqvist had significant misgivings about the project and working together with the Saudi regime.

According to Cederqvist, she tried to bring the subject up with the then minister for finance, Social Democrat Bosse Ringholm, as well as with high ranking officials from the foreign ministry and the Swedish embassy in Riyadh.

She wanted the agency to pull out of the project. But the foreign ministry told her no.

“It was never going to work. The arguments they gave me were that the good contacts with the Saudi regime were too important to be risked,” she told SvD.

According to the paper, the project has been extended six times, by different Swedish governments, since it was first initiated in 1987.

And while the Saudis speak openly about the project, Sweden has always chosen to keep the cooperation confidential.

According to SvD, the project was extended by current prime minister Fredrik Reinfeldt’s government as recently as 2007.

The great secrecy around the Saudi deals and the last few weeks’ revelations have prompted Left Party leader Jonas Sjöstedt to demand that the government come clean.

“I want the government to openly account for any joint ventures they have had with Saudi Arabia. The question is if there are more dealings or cooperations. If that is the case I’d like the government to tell the Riksdag, before someone else does,” he said to SvD.

The Local/rm

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ARMS

‘Scrapping Saudi deal has damaged Sweden’

A sharp debate has broken out in Sweden after the government's decision to end a controversial military co-operation agreement with Saudi Arabia.

'Scrapping Saudi deal has damaged Sweden'
Swedish PM Stefan Löfven made the announcement on a visit to Kiev. Photo: Joakim Goksör/TT

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Sweden has been selling arms to the oil rich nation for decades but the policy has been strongly debated in the Nordic nation and caused divisions within the Social Democrat-Green coalition government.

The leader of the Swedish Left Party Jonas Sjöstedt referred to the news to end the deal as a “victory” on Tuesday and wrote on Twitter: “Credible feminist politics demanded this.”

But former Foreign Minister Carl Bildt issued sharp criticism of the government.

"This is not least about Sweden's credibility as a contractual partner. That credibility is important to a relatively small country like Sweden,” he wrote on his blog.

“What has happened is unfortunate. Sweden has been damaged,” he added.

And Leif Johansson, chairman of Swedish telecommunications giant Ericsson, warned that the decision, which comes hot on the heels of a human rights spat between Sweden and the Arab League, could harm Sweden's trade relations.

He told newspaper Dagens Industri: “If you make yourself the enemy of the Arab League it could cause very great damage. But we don't know how this will play out until after a few years, it depends completely on how we manage to patch up our relations with these countries.”

But Saudi Arabia researcher Thord Janson at Gothenburg University said he did not think the scrapped deal would have a long term effect on Swedish trade.

"I think that the Saudis feel that they have made their point and that they will want to return to normal conditions as soon as possible," he told newspaper Expressen.

The announcement by Prime Minister Stefan Löfven came late on Tuesday, following a spat between Sweden, Saudi Arabia and the Arab League over human rights violations.

Foreign Minister Margot Wallström said on Monday that Saudi officials had stopped her from making her opening address to an Arab League meeting in Cairo due to her stance on human rights.

“The ministers have voiced their condemnation and astonishment at the issuance of such statements that are incompatible with the fact that the Constitution of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is based on Sharia,” read a statement issued by Arab League ministers following their meeting in Cairo.

Wallström's press secretary Erik Boman told The Local on Tuesday that the statement “should be interpreted as a way of Saudi Arabia trying to save face.”

“It is one of very many statements on different issues released by the Arab League after a meeting – by tradition they do that kind of thing,” he added.

Wallström has rarely commented on Saudi Arabia but in January she slammed the kingdom's treatment of blogger Raef Badawi, who had been sentenced to 1,000 lashes and 10 years in prison for insulting Islam.
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