Swedish leader tackles crime and energy fears on election campaign

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NORRTALJE, Sweden (AP) — Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson was on the campaign trail Sunday a week before Sweden’s national election to address fears about gang violence and rising electricity bills.

Andersson traveled by bus to communities near Stockholm in an attempt to reassure voters. The September 11 election comes amid growing insecurity, with a series of shootings in Sweden making crime a key campaign issue.

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Russia’s war against Ukraine led Sweden, together with Finland, to take a historic step in applying for NATO membership. This step reassured many people and is so unchallenged that it was not an issue in the campaign leading up to the election.

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But Andersson said Russia’s energy ‘war’ on Europe, including a gas cut through the Nord Stream 1 pipeline to Germany, has become an issue voters keep raising with her as campaigning for her left-wing Swedish Democrat Party.

“A lot of people are worried about their electricity bills given Putin’s war on energy,” the 55-year-old leader said in comments to The Associated Press after a visit to a community center for seniors in Norrtalje. , a city north of Stockholm.

“I mean he has a military invasion in Ukraine, but he also has an energy war against Europe, so people are very concerned about electricity bills but also about crime and the climate.”

His government pledged on Saturday to provide $23 billion in liquidity guarantees to power companies, a step that followed the shutdown of Nord Stream 1 intended to prevent a financial crisis.

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Another concern for Andersson is the growing popularity of a far-right populist party with its historical roots in the Nazi movement, the Swedish Democrats.

The party, which has struggled to generalize its image, is closer to power than it has ever been, raising fears among many Swedish voters that they could end up with a key position in power in a coalition of right. The anti-migrant party has gained popularity as the country struggles to integrate large numbers of migrants. Critics fear his far-right roots could make him a threat to the county’s democratic foundations.

Polls show a right-wing coalition including Sweden’s Democrats has a chance of winning power, although the race is expected to be close.

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Andersson told the AP she was concerned, noting that a right-wing party employee sent an email last week urging people to celebrate the Nazi invasion of Poland 83 years ago.

“This kind of invitation would never happen in any other party in Sweden. That said, many voters in the Swedish Democratic Party are honest people who are disappointed with the development,” she said.

Amid shootings and protests from the right, the Social Democrats have hardened their stance in recent years. In this campaign, the party promised tougher measures to fight crime as well as promises to preserve the Scandinavian country’s famous social protections.

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Andersson and her party said she believed problems could be solved together and that the welfare system was one of the best weapons in the fight against crime.

Andersson told the AP that his solution to crime was to strengthen police forces and put more criminals behind bars, while tackling the social roots of the problem.

“We also need to work harder to prevent new generations from choosing a life of crime. And I think the only way to do that is to end the segregation we have in Sweden,” she said.

Andersson traveled in a large red bus emblazoned with the words “our Sweden can do better”. After leaving the center for the elderly, she went to a fair in Botkyrka Park where party activists wore T-shirts saying “I vote for Magdalena” and where families from multicultural immigrant backgrounds are lined up for pony rides and other attractions.

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Andersson is Sweden’s first-ever female prime minister. She took office last November after her predecessor, Stefan Lofven, resigned after leading the party and the country since 2014.

As she struggles with the perception that her party has failed to stem the gang violence plaguing the country. In his favor is a reputation for being a firm and capable hand that has ruled with a narrow majority and through a period of geopolitical upheaval.

At the party lounge, Annelie Gustafsson, a 45-year-old mother carrying her daughter on her shoulders, did not say who she was voting for. But she made it clear that her vote was aimed at keeping Sweden’s Democrats out of power. She takes issue with their unwelcoming stance towards migrants, which Gustoffsson says undermines the country’s tradition of being a humanitarian haven.

“This year it was about which party I don’t want to see running the country, and that’s really important to me,” she said. “I’m proud to be Swedish, I’m proud of the people here and the fact that we help others. … So closing the country is not for me.



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