Sweden's would-be PM fights charges

ANNIKA SAVILL

Stockholm

Sweden's Social Democrats launched a strategy to save their prime minister- in-waiting yesterday. Mona Sahlin, defending herself against allegations of misuse of a government credit card, declared she would stay on as number two in the cabinet and would still run for the party leadership if "the party wants me to and if I want to".

Senior members of the party, reluctant to give up on the young and charismatic Ms Sahlin as Sweden's first woman prime minister, issued statements of support. Ms Sahlin then displayed all her media skills as she faced the press alone and denounced a tabloid campaign about her private finances. Asked if she would remain as Deputy Prime Minister, despite an investigation by public prosecutors, Ms Sahlin replied: "Of course. People are innocent until proven guilty."

Ms Sahlin, 38, who insists she paid back the government every krona each time she used the card, offered a passionate self-defence. "I may be careless with my life, but I'm sure as heck not careless with my politics ... and I'm sure as heck not dishonest. I fell behind on my finances in the 1980s. I did credit cards. I'm not alone in that."

She said she had been through campaigns against her before, "including faeces and condoms in the mail, and yet I have loved every second of my life in politics".

She said that to succeed Ingvar Carlsson, when he retires in March, "I would need a lot of support. To me that means a vast, vast majority of the party. But that is not enough - it also depends on what I want and what my family wants."

It also depends on prosecutors clearing her of any criminal offence. As legal opinions differ on the legality of borrowing on the government card, and other politicians may have been following the same practice, a clean bill for Ms Sahlin appears quite possible.

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