Bildt defends himself for praising Ariel Sharon

Swedish foreign minister Carl Bildt's praise for the late former Israeli prime minister, Ariel Sharon, has raised eyebrows from some of Sweden's opposition parties, and now even from another member of the government coalition.

After news of Sharon's death spread on Saturday, Bildt wrote via Twitter, "Ariel Sharon was a great leader of Israel. A brilliant military commander, but also a wise statesman seeing the necessity of peace."

Mehmet Kaplan, the Green party's group leader in Parliament, criticized this view, linking Sharon to a massacre Palestinian refugees in Lebanon in 1982.

"When this is so well known and such widespread knowledge, then the fact that our foreign minister makes such a statement on his official twitter account, well, it's nothing other than really, really tragic," says Kaplan to news agency TT.

Hans Linde, the Left party's spokesperson on foreign policy, also sees the foreign minister's statement as deeply provocative.

"He's praising a person who is responsible for sweeping massacres of Palestinians," says Linde on the website of the Swedish daily Svenska Dagbladet. "A person who openly advocated expelling the whole Palestinian population," he adds.

Kerstin Lundgren, the foreign policy spokesperson for the Center party, which belongs to the government Alliance, also disagrees with Bildt, telling Swedish Radio News that she has a "totally different picture" of Ariel Sharon as a political actor.

Swedish Radio News tried to reach Carl Bildt for a response to the criticism, but he did not want to comment, according to his press secretary on Sunday morning. He did, however, tweet a link to a New York Times article on the former Israeli leader, calling it "an interesting and balanced effort to assess the life of Ariel Sharon."

Later Bildt said to the online version of the tabloid Expressen that it is a matter of good form for statements in situations like this to highlight the positive deeds a person has done.

However, Radio Sweden found a Tweet that Bildt wrote shortly after the President of Venezuela died in March of last year, in which Bildt had less complimentary things to say of the deceased leader: "Hugo Chavez was undoubtedly a charismatic and strong leader, but his policies led his country astray with grave economic consequences."