Swedish foreign minister resigns

Swedish Foreign Minister Laila Freivalds resigned Tuesday after she was accused of lying about her role in the closing of a far-right Web site that solicited cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad. Freivalds said she could not carry out her job given recent media attacks against her, causing damage to the Social Democratic government, which is seeking re-election this year.

Prime Minister Goran Persson said Freivalds would be temporarily replaced by Deputy Prime Minister Bo Ringholm. Freivalds, 63, faced harsh criticism already in December when a report found her partly responsible for the government's slow response to the 2004 South Asian tsunami that killed hundreds of vacationing Swedes.

Criticism mounted after she was accused of violating Sweden 's free speech laws by cracking down on a far-right party that was planning to publish caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad on its Web site. The site was closed Feb. 9 after a Foreign Ministry official contacted the Web hosting company. The ministry said the official had not the ordered company to shut down the site, but merely advised it that the caricatures could pose a danger to Swedes, given the Muslim anger directed at the time toward neighboring Denmark , where the original prophet cartoons were published.

Freivalds had told Swedish media she did not order the ministry official to contact the company, but a later report from the ministry said she was involved in the decision. Media and opposition politicians accused her of lying about her role in the crackdown, and demanded she resign.

"The reason that I have decided to request my dismissal is that it is impossible to carry out a serious job, and that is damaging for the government, the party and not least for the Foreign Ministry," Freivalds said at joint news conference with Persson. Her closest aide, Cabinet Secretary Hans Dahlgren, also stepped down.

The prime minister said he had not pressured Freivalds to resign. But many observers had considered the embattled foreign minister a burden for the Social Democratic government, as it trails a center-right coalition in polls six months ahead of national elections.

It was the second time Freivalds, who was born in Riga , Latvia , left a Cabinet post. In 2000 she resigned as justice minister amid reports she was trying to buy an apartment she was renting in Stockholm , while spearheading government efforts to stop apartments with rental contracts from being sold. The government feared that sales of public housing apartments to private owners would force low-income families to move out of downtown areas.

She was brought back into the government in 2003 to replace Foreign Minister Anna Lindh, who was stabbed to death in a Stockholm department store.

"She has been a consistent and forceful foreign minister who stood by the government and Sweden in a time marked by sorrow after the murder of Anna Lindh," Persson said about Freivalds. "I am very grateful that she took on the task of becoming foreign minister and have all the reason to emphasize her efforts for our country." Persson said Ringholm, the deputy prime minister who has previously served as finance minister, would lead the Foreign Ministry until a permanent replacement is found, reports the AP.


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