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Report of Sweden plan for Saudi weapons plant causes storm

Report of Sweden plan for Saudi weapons plant causes storm

A Swedish defence agency has been secretly helping Saudi Arabia build an advanced weapons plant, public radio reported on Tuesday, triggering a political storm in the Nordic state.

March 7, 2012 1:46 by

Swedish public radio said it had documents which showed that the defence research and technology agency FOI, which is under the Defence Ministry, had held talks with Saudi Arabia to help it construct a factory that would make anti-tank missiles.

Arms sales to Saudi Arabia have already caused criticism but Tuesday’s report sparked an outcry in Sweden which prides itself on standing up for human rights.

“Sweden must not ruin its good reputation by supporting the military might of a dictatorship,” opposition Green Party spokesman Gustav Fridolin said in a statement. He said he had asked a parliamentary committee to look into whether the agreement conformed with Sweden’s constitution.

Another opposition party, the Left Party, called for a special parliamentary debate.

The government declined to comment specifically on the weapons plant report. FOI said in a statement that it refused to comment on the radio report, because of state secrecy.

Deputy Prime Minister Jan Bjorklund, who is head of the second largest ruling party, the Liberals, in the centre-right coalition government, said he had been against the cooperation deal with Saudi Arabia under which such a plant would fall.

“Sweden should be able to export military goods to democracies, not to dictatorships,” he told reporters.

The cooperation deal with Saudi Arabia was struck in 2005 when the centre-left Social Democrats were in power, but was renewed in 2010 by the current government.

Foreign Minister Carl Bildt, a member of the largest coalition party, the Moderates, told public radio that he supported continuing cooperation with Saudi Arabia.

Saudi Arabia, a key ally of the United States, is ruled by an absolute monarchy which applies an austere version of Sunni Islam. It is Sweden’s largest trading partner in the region.

In a 2010 report, the Swedish Foreign Ministry said problems with human rights in Saudi Arabia “remained significant”. (Reporting by Patrick Lannin and Johan Sennero; editing by Robert Woodward)

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