Swedish minister quits after Saudi arms row

Sten Tolgfors says debate over Swedish plans to help build a Saudi weapons plant "escalated his decision" to resign.

    Tolgfors said he had lost the "happiness and energy" needed to carry out his job as defence minister [Reuters]

    Sweden's defence minister has resigned in the wake of weeks of allegations that he knew that Swedish military agencies were in talks to help Saudi Arabia build a weapons plant, the government says.

    Sten Tolgfors said on Thursday that the Saudi debate had escalated his decision to quit, but attributed his resignation to the long term he had served as a minister and the heavy workload that came with the role.

    The media attention he faced in recent weeks had become "the last drop", he said in a lengthy speech elaborating on his accomplishments since he took office in 2007.

    Commenting briefly on the Saudi row, he defended the plans, saying they were in line with a military co-operation agreement signed by the two countries in 2005. However, he said certain issues need "clarification" - a process he trusted Swedish authorities would carry out.

    Tolgfors has been criticised after Swedish public radio, citing leaked documents, reported the plans to help the Saudis build a facility for repairs and modifications of anti-tank weapons.

    Sweden has no ban on weapons exports to Saudi Arabia, but the reports suggested the deal was set up in a way to avoid a public discussion on the issue.

    The Swedish Defence Research Agency (known by its Swedish acronym FOI) has co-operated with Saudi Arabia since 2005, though construction on "Project Simoom" has yet to begin, Swedish Radio reported earlier in March, citing hundreds of classified documents and interviews with key players.

    Part of the Project Simoom involved, according to Swedish Radio, FOI's alleged creation of a shell company called SSTI to handle dealings with Saudi Arabia, in order to avoid any direct links to FOI and the government.

    Calls for him to resign mounted as the opposition accused the centre-right government of trying to cover-up its involvement in the Saudi plans.

    Peace activists who oppose Sweden's military exports said it was particularly improper for the country to strike military agreements with non-democratic regimes.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and agencies


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