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Swedish Defense Minister Quits Over Saudi Weapons Factory Deal

Sweden's Defense Minister Sten Tolgfors has resigned after facing harsh criticism over confidential plans to build a weapons plant in Saudi Arabia leaked to the media.

Swedish public radio revealed early this month the confidential plans for the country's Defense Research Agency (FOI) to help Riyadh build weapons, including missiles and torpedos.

Tolgfors initially denied the reports saying that he was not aware of the plans, and that FOI had over-stepped its authority. But he came under pressure as more details of the plan emerged later.

After Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt confirmed that an initial deal had been signed with the Saudi government in 2005, Tolgfors admitted it, saying the plans were in line with military cooperation between the two countries.

Tolgfors submitted his resignation to Reinfeldt "at his own request," the Prime Minister's spokeswoman Roberta Alenius said on Thursday.

The Premier would clarify the reason behind Tolgfors' decision to quit at a press briefing later on Thursday, she added.

Although elections are due only after two years, opinion polls show that Reinfeldt's minority center-right government is lagging behind in popularity.

Swedish Radio broke the news of the controversial deal on March 6.

Citing hundreds of classified documents and interviews with key figures, the public broadcaster said FOI had been assisting Saudi Arabia with the planned project since it was first launched in 2007.

The report noted that construction on "Project Simoom" is yet to begin and that the project "pushes the boundaries of what is possible for a Swedish authority" in the planning of a weapons factory for "a government in a dictatorship such as Saudi Arabia."

Swedish laws require all military exports to be regulated by the independent Swedish Agency for Non-Proliferation and Export Controls (ISP). Opposition Greens Party demanded an explanation from the Defense Minister as well as an investigation into the matter.

by RTTNews Staff Writer

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