Swedish minister quits over Saudi arms plant row

STOCKHOLM Thu Mar 29, 2012 5:04am EDT

Swedish Defence Minister Sten Tolgfors (R) takes part in a meeting with his South Korean counterpart Kim Kwan-jin (not in picture) at the South Korean Defence Ministry in Seoul June 21, 2011. REUTERS/Truth Leem

Swedish Defence Minister Sten Tolgfors (R) takes part in a meeting with his South Korean counterpart Kim Kwan-jin (not in picture) at the South Korean Defence Ministry in Seoul June 21, 2011.

Credit: Reuters/Truth Leem

STOCKHOLM (Reuters) - Sweden's defense minister was forced to quit on Thursday after weeks of pressure over reports the Nordic state planned to help Saudi Arabia build a weapons plant.

Arms sales to Saudi Arabia have caused criticism in a country which prides itself on standing up for human rights, and the reports about aid for the weapons plant sparked an outcry.

Defense Minister Sten Tolgfors survived initial reports in early March by public radio about plans for a state-run Defense research agency, FOI, to help Saudi Arabia build the plant by saying he had not known of them and that FOI had over-stepped its authority.

But reports of the details of the affair have continued to surface, steadily increasing pressure on him.

"He (Tolgfors) has resigned at his own request," said Roberta Alenius, spokeswoman for Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt.

The minority centre-right government, which consists of four parties, has fallen behind in opinion polls after the largest opposition party the Social Democrats named a popular new leader.

Reinfeldt, head of the largest government party, the Moderates, has had to delay further income tax cuts due to a slowing economy.

He has until the next election in 2014 to claw back some popularity.

(Reporting by Johan Ahlander; writing by Patrick Lannin; editing by Alistair Scrutton)

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