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by Euro Reporter
2015-03-26 10:13:43
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This is how Saudi Arabia is punishing Sweden.

You'll find few people who will stick up for the human rights situation in Saudi Arabia. Religious minorities, women and homosexuals face repression. Tens of thousands of people are thought to languish in prison for political reasons. And capital or corporal punishment, sometimes even for crimes such as apostasy and blasphemy, is commonplace. All told, the Saudi kingdom is not as absurdly horrific as the Islamic State – but sometimes, it's not so far off. Yet for the past 70 years, Saudi Arabia has been a key U.S. ally in the Middle East. Official calls for the protection of human rights in the country have been muted, when they're heard at all. One of the few countries to risk its relationship with Saudi Arabia is Sweden. As WorldViews previously reported, after Swedish Foreign Minister Margot Wallstrom revealed that she was blocked from talking about democracy and women's rights at a gathering of the Arab League in Cairo, Sweden responded by scrapping a major arms deal with the kingdom.

sweden_400_01Wallstrom, who promised a "feminist" foreign policy when she entered government, had previously criticized the flogging of Saudi blogger Raif Badawi on Twitter and called Saudi Arabia a dictatorship.

Now, Saudi Arabia seems determined to make things uncomfortable for Sweden.  Since Wallstrom publicly criticized Saudi Arabia for blocking her talk March 9, there have been a number of notable diplomatic moves: On March 10, Saudi Arabia recalled its ambassador to Stockholm, saying it was prompted by Sweden's "interference in its internal affairs." On the same day, foreign ministers from Arab League states issued a joint statement condemning Wallstrom's statement. On March 18, the United Arab Emirates recalled its ambassador to Stockholm, condemning the "strong statements made by the Foreign Minister of Sweden to the Swedish Parliament against the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and its judicial system." On March 19, a Saudi official told the Associated Press that the kingdom would no longer issue business visas to Swedish citizens or renew the current visas of Swedish citizens inside Saudi Arabia.

These acts seem to be clearly designed to pressure Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Löfven to distance himself from Wallstrom. And the diplomatic tactics being used by Saudi Arabia are lending themselves to an internal Swedish backlash. Sweden exported $1.3 billion to Saudi Arabia last year, and Sweden's business community is deeply worried about the financial impact of the dispute with Saudi Arabia. The arms deal alone could be big – Saudi Arabia bought $39 million in Swedish military equipment last year alone. Before the spat had even begun, 31 Swedish business leaders published a statement in DN Debatt newspaper urging the government to maintain good ties with Saudi Arabia. "Sweden's reputation as a trade and business partner is at stake," the business leaders wrote. Saudi Arabia's decision to block visas seems to show that it is aware of its financial clout. "This is going to have a vast negative impact for the companies with interest in the region," Andreas Astrom, communications director at Stockholm's Chamber of Commerce, told the Associated Press. "This is not good for Swedish business society and, in the long run, jobs in Sweden."

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Sweden restaurant attack raises concern of gang violence

A deadly restaurant shooting in Sweden's second-largest city shows the Scandinavian country is not the peaceful oasis that it's sometimes made out to be. While violent crime is low compared to the U.S., Swedish cities including Stockholm, Goteborg and Malmo are dealing with the same kind of gang violence that you find — on a bigger scale — in American cities.

Police say the shooting late Wednesday in Goteborg, when gunmen with automatic weapons opened fire inside a crowded restaurant, killing two people and wounding about a dozen, was likely connected to gang feuds that have escalated in recent years. "We have a serious situation in Goteborg where many people have been murdered," regional police chief Klas Friberg said. "We have different types of criminal gangs who ... are ready to use aggravated violence in retribution attacks or to win market share." In egalitarian Sweden, even the poorest neighbourhoods appear well-off compared to the most neglected areas of major U.S. cities. But like in many cities across Europe, a sub-culture glorifying violence has taken root among some youth in immigrant suburbs who feel cut off from the rest of society. Many of them identify with a "ghetto lifestyle that you find in slums of U.S. cities," said Sven Granath, an expert at the Swedish National Council for Crime Prevention.

There are also concerns over extremism: The Swedish security service said Wednesday that about 250 people have left Sweden for Syria and Iraq to join the Islamic State group and other al-Qaida inspired groups. Many, though not all, were recruited in immigrant neighbourhoods in Sweden's main cities, including Goteborg. Sweden's homicide rate has been steady in the past decade but police say they've seen an increase in shooting incidents in the major cities as part of turf wars between criminal gangs. "We have had organized crime before. But the brutal showdowns we see now are relatively new," said Jerzy Sarnecki, a criminology professor at Stockholm University. In 2013, there were 87 homicides reported in Sweden, a country with a population of about 10 million. About one-quarter of the homicides were in the greater Goteborg area, according to the Swedish National Council for Crime Prevention. Chicago alone recorded 415 homicides that year — and that was the lowest level since 1965. Wednesday's shooting happened in Biskopsgarden, a Goteborg suburb where rival gangs have been fighting for control of the illegal drug trade. Some say the gangs aren't highly organized, but loosely knit groups of young men with fluctuating allegiances.

"They can be best friends one day and mortal enemies the next," Sarnecki said. Witnesses told Swedish media that two masked gunmen carrying automatic weapons stormed into the tavern as people were watching a Champions League soccer match. Police said the victims were two men in their 20s, but didn't identify them. Eight wounded people were taken to the hospital. Two of them were in serious condition a day after the shooting. Though police had not identified any suspects on Thursday, Friberg, the police chief, said investigators believe "that this incident has to do with ongoing gang conflicts in Goteborg." He said police stepped up its efforts to combat criminal gangs in the city a year and a half ago, leading to the prosecution of about 60 people for serious offenses and the seizure of about 200 weapons, including 50 automatic guns. Still, they didn't see the attack coming. "We have maybe about 100 men in different gangs who are ready to use violence or commit crimes," Friberg said. "They think about crime 24 hours a day, seven days a week. It's impossible for us to be everywhere."

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Sweden security forces fear Russian military operations

Sweden's security services said on Wednesday they feared possible Russian military operations against their country following an increase in espionage activity since the Ukraine crisis erupted a year ago. In their annual report, the security services identified Russian espionage as the biggest intelligence threat facing neutral Sweden, which along with the wider Baltic region has seen a sharp increase in Russian naval and air force activity over the past year. "We see Russian intelligence operations in Sweden - we can't interpret this in any other way - as preparation for military operations against Sweden," security police chief analyst Wilhelm Unge told a news conference. The report said Russian military espionage in Sweden included hacking, trying to get hold of secret equipment and trying to recruit agents. "Sweden is leading in several areas of military and also civil technology and this attracts Russia's interest," he said.

"And we have identified and stopped several cases of technology procurement during the year where we assessed that it was not a question, as the Russian partner claimed, of civilian usage but aimed at strengthening the Russian military."  Unge said a third of Russian diplomats based in Sweden were believed to be intelligence officers. Relations between Russia and the West have become badly strained since Moscow annexed Ukraine's Crimea peninsula last March and backed pro-Russian separatists battling Kiev's forces in eastern Ukraine. Sweden is not in NATO but as a member of the European Union participates in economic sanctions imposed by the 28-nation bloc against Russia over its role in Ukraine.  Last November Sweden said it had proof that a foreign submarine had been operating illegally in the Stockholm archipelago after suspicions sparked the country's biggest military mobilization since the Cold War.

Alarmed by the increased Russian military activity in the Baltic Sea - such as Russian bombers rehearsing a bomb run on Sweden - Stockholm has said it will increase defines spending and plans more military co-operation with neighbouring Finland, also a non-NATO EU member. Despite the concerns about Russia, most Swedes still oppose their country abandoning its traditional neutrality and seeking NATO membership, according to opinion polls. The new report also identified as a security threat the risk of Swedes traveling to Iraq and Syria to fight with militant groups such as Islamic State and possibly returning home radicalized and planning attacks on Swedish targets. Like other European countries, Sweden saw a sharp increase in the number of its nationals going to fight in foreign conflicts during 2014. The report said that number was expected to continue rising.

 


       
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