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Last Updated: Saturday, 24 December 2005, 00:43 GMT
Sweden bitter over tsunami loss
By Lars Bevanger
BBC News, Stockholm

Swedish boy pays tribute
Swedes have attended memorial services in Thailand this year
Of all western countries, Sweden was the worst hit by the Asian tsunami.

The devastating wave killed nearly 550 and injured some 1,500 Swedish holidaymakers, who had flocked to Thai resorts for the Christmas period.

While the death toll cannot be compared with the enormous loss of life in the tsunami region, it has been felt strongly in this nation of only nine million people.

Now, as Sweden marks one year since the disaster, criticism of the authorities here is mounting.

Many tsunami survivors and families of the dead accuse the government of reacting too slowly after the tsunami struck, and for behaving arrogantly towards those in distress.

Anna Johansson is one. She hands me a newspaper clipping, carrying the photo of a smiling woman who looks very much like herself.

"This is my twin sister Mia," Anna says. "I knew she was dead even before I heard about the wave, I could feel it. She and her husband Lasse were swept away that day, while their daughter Mikaela survived."

While foreign ministry officials said they were struggling to get an overview of dead and missing Swedes, Anna found no-one there was prepared to listen when she tried to give information about her sister.

"I found out via the internet that her body had been found. Four times I tried to tell the foreign ministry. They never took the details down."

No help

Eighteen-year-old Danny Skoog had travelled to Thailand with his two siblings and their mother, after their father had died unexpectedly from a heart attack last autumn.

Danny is now an orphan, after his mother was swept away from their beach bungalow when the tsunami hit.

Danny Skoog
For me, the anniversary is just one day for thoughts, and for celebrating the beautiful people who went away that day
Danny Skoog

He now lives at a friend's house outside Stockholm.

Cradling his dog, Stella, he tells me how he spent a week roaming the streets and hospitals of Khao Lak, with no help from Swedish authorities.

"There were just rumours of people coming to help, but it really didn't happen. We spent about one week in the hospitals, but we didn't get any help," he said.

"We had to go home with German authorities, the German air force."

Officials under fire

At the start of this month, an independent commission published a report blaming Prime Minister Goran Persson and his foreign minister, Laila Freivalds, for reacting too slowly to what had happened.

Anders Milton, the national co-ordinator of psychiatric services and one of the report's authors, said the foreign ministry did not realise what was happening.

"They didn't come into the office. They logged 9,000 calls that day, out of which they answered 980," he told the BBC News website.

Swedish missing board in Thailand
Swedes made their own efforts to trace missing friends and relatives

"Had they come to the office, and had they called any other European capital to ask how they saw the situation, they would have immediately realised that this was a catastrophe where they had to act.

"There was unnecessary suffering, both physical and psychological, due to the fact that people were not in contact with the Swedish authorities."

While the political leadership has been slated over its response to the crisis, the travel industry here has been praised.

Scandinavia's largest travel operator, Fritidsresor, have some 4,500 customers in the tsunami-hit region at this time of year.

Theatre visit

Their CEO, Johan Lundgren, remembers how he was celebrating Christmas with his brother's family in northern Sweden when he was woken at six in the morning on 26 December by a telephone call from his communications director in Stockholm.

"I decided to go back to Stockholm, and got back just after lunch," he told the BBC News website.

(Foreign Minister) Laila Freivalds sees it as her main task now to make sure the foreign ministry gets as good crisis organisation as possible
Stefan Amer
political adviser
Mr Lundgren and his staff then made it their first priority to get out everyone who wanted to leave.

When they tried to co-ordinate their work with the foreign ministry, they could not get through, he explains.

"Mobile phones were switched off, contact people weren't answering, and we ended up calling the switchboard, which was under a lot of pressure.

"When we did get through, we failed to make them understand how serious we believed the situation was."

Learning lessons

Foreign Minister Laila Freivalds has been heavily criticised for going to the theatre on 26 December, and for stating that she does not listen to the news when she is not working.

A recent survey showed a majority of Swedish voters would like Mrs Freivalds to step down.

Anna Johansson found details of her twin sister's body on the internet
Stefan Amer is a political adviser to the foreign minister. He says he understands the criticism, but that it is up to the prime minister to decide whether any one person should resign as a consequence.

"There will always be the question of where to put the responsibility, and how much responsibility to put on individuals," he said.

"Laila Freivalds sees it as her main task now to make sure the foreign ministry gets as good crisis organisation as possible. That work has been ongoing, and she wishes to continue it."

Prime Minister Goran Persson has apologised for the government's failures, but does not want anyone to resign. Like many here, he says now is the time for remembrance.

There have already been two memorial ceremonies for Swedes in southern Thailand, and there will be more over the Christmas holidays.

Many of the bereaved will travel there to take part, and to grieve. Danny Skoog will go there later in the New Year. This is a sad time of year for him, he says, but one year on he only feels stronger after managing for so long on his own.

"For me, the anniversary is just one day for thoughts, and for celebrating the beautiful people who went away that day. So I'm going to celebrate more than feel sorry."



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