Sweden’s foreign minister, the Latvia-born Laila Freivalds, has resigned amidst criticism of her reaction to an extremist group’s Web site running cartoons depicting the prophet Muhammad, the government announced March 21.
Freivalds appeared in a brief press conference with Sweden’s Prime Minister Göran Persson to explain the resignation. Deputy Prime Minister Bosse Ringholm will take over temporarily until a new foreign minister is named.
Criticism of Freivalds had escalated in Sweden in the weeks since early February, when she strongly condemned SD-Kuriren, a far-right newspaper, for running the cartoons as a response to reaction caused by Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten and its publication in September of 12 caricatures of the prophet, whose depiction is generally prohibited under Islamic law.
“I will defend freedom of the press no matter what the circumstances, but I strongly condemn the provocation by SD-Kuriren,” Freivalds said in a Feb. 9 statement. “It displays a complete lack of respect.”
Shortly thereafter, a Foreign Ministry official contacted the hosting company on which the SD-Kuriren Web site was located and asked to shut it down. Freivalds initially denied knowing anything about the action, but documents showed that she had been informed, according to Radio Sweden.
Sweden’s constitution forbids government interference in the media.
Freivalds also was criticized for Sweden’s response to the December 2004 Asian tsunami. About 500 Swedish citizens died in the natural disaster that left nearly 230,000 dead or missing.
Freivalds, born in Rīga in 1942, became foreign minister in 2003. She replaced Anna Lindh, who died after being stabbed in a Stockholm department store. Freivalds earlier served twice as Sweden’s justice minister.
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