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Last Updated: Thursday, 30 December, 2004, 19:23 GMT
Tsunami enrages Swedish media

The Swedish media and public have sharply criticised the Swedish government - in particular Prime Minister Goran Persson and Foreign Minister Laila Freivalds - for their response to the Asian tsunami disaster.

Reporters quiz Ms Freivalds in Thailand
Ms Freivalds met Swedish survivors in Phuket on Thursday
Mr Persson said more than 1,000 Swedes may have been killed by the giant waves that wreaked havoc on Sunday in Thai beach resorts, where Swedes and other foreign tourists were on holiday.

The daily Aftonbladet lashed out at Foreign Minister Freivalds with the headline "She went to the theatre" - instead of staying at her post to command a relief effort.

According to the paper, which traced the activities of her ministry after the tsunami story first broke, she did not turn up at her desk for another 31 hours.

Angry e-mails

It was already known that about 15,000 Swedes were staying at resorts on Thailand's southwestern coast, in and around Phuket.

Since then the Swedish Foreign Ministry has been deluged with e-mails accusing the government of indecision and a failure to act.

Injured Swedish tsunami survivor
This injured Swedish woman was rescued from Phi Phi island
"Your government's incompetence shines like a bonfire in the night," said one of the e-mails, quoted by Sweden's TT news agency.

Another wrote: "It's shameful to be Swedish today because of your weakness".

Ms Freivalds was criticised on television by a director of one of Sweden's biggest charter holiday companies, Fritidsresor.

Sweden has now started to organise airlifts to get the stranded and injured Swedes home from the resorts - but they have been waiting for days.

The newspaper Expressen said it had received more than 1,000 e-mails and telephone calls from its readers, expressing anger and disappointment.

The Swedish charter companies and the embassy in Bangkok, it says, perceived the enormity of the catastrophe long before the government chose to act.

Prime Minister Persson, quoted by Expressen, admitted: "I suppose one can say we have acted too late".

"There may be grounds for citicism. No criticism is without cause. Let's examine this when we've got all the Swedes home. I understand the anger and frustration," Mr Persson said.

Under scrutiny

Angry citizens have sent messages to the government calling for the resignations of Mr Persson and Ms Freivalds, accusing them of "inability to act".

Devastated Sofitel Hotel, Khao Lak resort
The bodies have been lying unrefrigerated and are deteriorating rapidly
Bill Patterson
Australian diplomat, Thailand

Many of them say Sweden's inaction contrasts unfavourably with the speed of other countries' actions to rescue their citizens.

Ann-Louise Eksborg, director-general of Sweden's national crisis management authority, says that Sweden's preparedness to deal with great crises leaves a lot to be desired.

In an article in the daily Dagens Nyheter, she accuses the government of a lack of planning, a failure to co-operate with local authorities and emergency services, and a lack of political responsibility.

Meanwhile, the chairman of the Swedish Red Cross, Anders Milton, says in another article in Dagens Nyheter that the tragedy will leave "deep and lasting wounds" in Swedish society.

He says the Swedish authorities must be better prepared to deal with catastrophes in areas where many Swedes are present.

He admits that the delay in acting was largely due to the Christmas holiday - for both organisations and government authorities.

New Year's Day has been declared a day of national mourning in Sweden, and many local authorities are cancelling festivities or replacing them with mourning processions.

BBC Monitoring, based in Caversham in southern England, selects and translates information from radio, television, press, news agencies and the Internet from 150 countries in more than 70 languages.

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