Swedish minister pulls out of tsunami ceremony

STOCKHOLM - Swedish Foreign Minister Laila Freivalds, criticised for the government's slow response to the plight of Swedes caught up in the Asian tsunami, has pulled out of a ceremony marking the first anniversary of the disaster.

Freivalds had been due to attend the event in Stockholm tomorrow together with Prime Minister Goran Persson. Relatives of the victims of the tsunami are also expected to be present.

But Freivalds said in a statement overnight that plans for her presence had sparked "strong reactions".

"Out of consideration to those who are grieving, I will therefore honour the tsunami's victims by following the ceremony in another way," she said, Swedish news agency TT reported.

The December 26 ceremony is to involve the lighting of candles in memory of the 543 Swedes who died in the wave, mostly on Thai holiday beaches.

The centre-right opposition has demanded Freivald's resignation after an official report earlier this month said the Foreign Ministry had been slow to organise flights and help for thousands of Swedes who survived the tsunami but needed help.

The disaster which struck Asia last year left 231,000 dead or missing. Sweden was the hardest-hit country outside Asia.

- REUTERS

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