Swedish minister quits over Baltic bridge plan

STOCKHOLM (Reuter) - The Swedish Environment Minister, Olof Johansson, resigned yesterday after the government said it would press ahead with plans to build a controversial bridge and tunnel link to Denmark.

Mr Johansson, head of one of the four parties in the centre-right coalition government, had said the bridge could harm the delicate ecological balance of the Baltic Sea. Drawn-out arguments over the link had threatened to topple the coalition of the Prime Minister, Carl Bildt, but Swedish television said three of Mr Johansson's Centre Party colleagues, all ministers, had decided to remain in government. Mr Johansson said he would be replaced as environment minister by his deputy, Gorel Thurdin, who also represents the Centre Party.

First talks between Sweden and Denmark about linking the two countries over the Oresund Strait, a shallow strait connecting the North Sea to the Baltic Sea, began 30 years ago. The link is awaited anxiously by exporters who have had to use ferries for many years and Swedes looking forward to easy travel to Europe.

Danes have few concerns about the link, from the city of Malmo to Copenhagen, and have already started work on their end of the project. Ecologists say the water is so shallow that bridge foundations could interrupt salt water supply to the brackish Baltic.