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Calls for calm have been issued in Finland and the Baltic states following a draft Russian decree proposing border revisions in the Baltic Sea. Latvia is seeking clarification, while Lithuania accuses the Kremlin of using the decree as an intimidation tactic. Finnish President Alexander Stubb stated that political leaders are monitoring the situation and Finland will respond calmly and factually.

The draft, issued by Russia’s defense ministry, suggested altering sea borders around Russian islands in the Gulf of Finland and the exclave of Kaliningrad. Initially reported by Russia’s Tass news agency, the draft aimed to redraw Soviet-era borders from January 1985. It was unclear if Finnish or Lithuanian waters near Kaliningrad would be affected, but the proposal included the eastern Gulf of Finland, islands near the Finnish coast, and areas around Baltiysk and Zelenogradsk in Kaliningrad.

As members of the EU and NATO, Finland and the Baltic states have the alliance’s commitment to defend their borders. Finland’s defense and foreign committees convened emergency meetings, with Prime Minister Petteri Orpo stating there is no immediate cause for alarm.

The Russian proposals were subsequently removed from public view with a “draft deleted” notice. A Russian source later confirmed no plans to alter territorial waters in the Baltic. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov directed questions to the defense ministry, noting the political landscape had changed since the 1980s and emphasizing the heightened confrontation in the Baltic region.

Charly Salonius-Pasternak from the Finnish Institute of International Affairs suggested Russia’s approach was typical: probing reactions and retreating if met with resistance. Lithuania’s Foreign Minister Gabrielius Landsbergis described the draft as an escalation against NATO and the EU, advocating a strong response.

Simultaneously, Sweden’s armed forces chief, Gen Micael Byden, warned of Putin’s ambitions to control the Baltic Sea. Byden stressed the importance of keeping the Baltic Sea out of Putin’s control to maintain peace and stability. Sweden, a NATO member since March, has reinforced its military presence on the Baltic island of Gotland, which Gen Byden believes Russia has targeted.

In response to potential migration issues, Finland, which joined NATO last year, plans to prevent large-scale asylum seeker crossings from Russia. Helsinki fears Russia might exploit migration, but the UN refugee agency warns the draft law could lead to harmful pushbacks of legitimate asylum seekers, risking severe injuries, family separations, and deaths, according to UNHCR’s Philippe Leclerc.

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Security measures are being intensified for the Eurovision Song Contest in Malmo, Sweden’s third-largest city, as large demonstrations are expected to coincide with the event. While police and organizers assert they are well-prepared and aiming for a “joyful” occasion, concerns linger amidst heightened tensions.

The annual Eurovision celebration, typically a lighthearted affair of pop music and showbiz, finds itself under a cloud this year due to Israel’s participation amid the conflict in Gaza. With Sweden already facing elevated security challenges, Malmo braces for one of its most extensive policing endeavors.

Upwards of 100,000 visitors are anticipated to flock to the city on Sweden’s southwestern coast for the world’s largest live music competition. Despite the festive atmosphere adorned with colorful Eurovision banners adorning the streets, apprehensions loom large.

The series of festivities kick off on Saturday, with semi-finals scheduled for next Tuesday and Thursday, culminating in the grand final on May 11. An estimated global audience of 200 million viewers is expected to tune in for the four-hour spectacle.

Law enforcement personnel have been mobilized from across Sweden, with reinforcements from neighboring Denmark and Norway. While Swedish police typically carry arms, additional officers will be equipped with larger weapons as a precautionary measure.

Malmo’s police chief, Petra Stenkula, acknowledges the country’s heightened state of alert, citing a “terror level of four out of five.” She notes that protests against Israel’s participation in the competition have taken place in Sweden, including Malmo.

Despite the absence of specific threats to the event, security concerns remain elevated, particularly following a series of Quran-burnings last August that sparked outrage in the Muslim world. An internal police report underscores Sweden as a “priority target” for violent jihadist groups, citing various potential risks including unrest, cyber attacks, and broadcast disruption.

Authorities have deployed extensive surveillance measures, including cameras and drones, while implementing airport-style security checks at venue entrances. Bags are prohibited for guests attending the event.

Malmo’s security director, Per-Erik Ebbestahl, emphasizes the city’s readiness, citing months of planning and collaboration with counterparts in Liverpool, the host of last year’s competition.

While Malmo has previously hosted notable events such as a papal visit and a Holocaust Remembrance conference, the current security landscape presents new challenges, particularly regarding large gatherings and generalized threats towards Sweden.

The sentiment is echoed by Ebba Adielsson, the executive Eurovision producer, who acknowledges the political controversies surrounding this year’s event but hopes they won’t overshadow the festivities. Israeli contestant Eden Golan’s participation has drawn attention, given the politically charged nature of her song.

Tensions are palpable in Malmo, with its diverse population expressing mixed sentiments. While some members of the Jewish community feel nervous, others from the Palestinian community have been vocal in their opposition to Israel’s participation.

Protests against Israel’s involvement in Eurovision are anticipated, with multiple demonstrations planned throughout the week. Police are bracing for potentially large-scale rallies, with measures in place to ensure public safety.

Despite the offstage tensions, Eurovision enthusiasts remain hopeful for a successful and enjoyable event. Amidst the challenges, the spirit of Eurovision prevails, with festivities planned to celebrate the competition’s cultural significance.

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Denmark has announced significant reforms to its military, including extending conscription to women for the first time and increasing the standard service duration. This decision is part of a plan to bolster its defense capabilities and align with NATO targets amid heightened tensions in Europe following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in 2022.

Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen emphasized that the aim of these reforms is not to seek conflict but to prevent it. The government intends to achieve gender equality in the armed forces, with Defence Minister Troels Lund Poulsen stressing that more inclusive conscription will address defense challenges and contribute to national mobilization.

Denmark will become the third European nation, after Norway and Sweden, to mandate women’s conscription starting from 2026, alongside extending service duration for both genders from four to 11 months. These changes aim to increase the number of individuals serving in the military annually from 4,700 to 5,000, with approximately 25% being women.

With a current armed forces strength of around 20,000 personnel, Denmark, with a population of nearly six million, plans to raise its military spending from 1.4% to 2% of GDP to meet NATO’s requirements. Lawmakers have taken measures such as abolishing a public holiday to redirect funds towards defense spending.

Denmark has been a staunch supporter of Ukraine, providing advanced weapons, financial aid, and training to Ukrainian pilots on F-16 fighter jets. Additionally, Finland and Sweden have recently joined NATO as the alliance strengthens its defenses in Europe amid ongoing geopolitical tensions.

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Many Swedes are expressing relief and a sense of safety now that Sweden has officially joined NATO after nearly two years of application. The decision to apply for NATO membership was prompted by concerns over Russian aggression in the region, particularly after the invasion of Ukraine.

While there is widespread support for membership, some opposition remains, primarily from the Left and Green parties, who fear being drawn into conflicts and prefer diplomatic solutions.

Despite concerns about potential conflicts, the government and military maintain that NATO membership will enhance Sweden’s security.

However, there are mixed opinions among the public, with some welcoming the decision while others worry about potential repercussions. While there hasn’t been widespread panic, there are discussions about the visible impact of NATO membership, such as increased military cooperation and the presence of foreign soldiers on Swedish soil.

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Sweden has cleared the final obstacle to its NATO membership after Hungary’s parliament voted to ratify its bid, prompted by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in 2022. Initially met with delays and accusations of hostility from Hungary, Sweden’s application gained traction as Prime Minister Viktor Orban signaled support, emphasizing solidarity between the two nations.

Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson hailed the parliamentary ratification as a historic milestone, marking a significant departure from Sweden’s longstanding policy of neutrality spanning two centuries. This decision reflects Sweden’s commitment to defending its values and interests within the framework of the NATO alliance.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg lauded Hungary’s approval, emphasizing its role in strengthening and ensuring the security of the alliance. With parliamentary hurdles cleared, Sweden now awaits the formal invitation to join the 31-member NATO group, signaling a transformative shift in its defense posture and regional security dynamics.

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An incident at Sweden’s security service headquarters led to the hospitalization of eight individuals, including police officers, following reports of an unusual smell and subsequent evacuation of around 500 people. Initially thought to be a gas leak, authorities later confirmed no gas was detected. Police are investigating the cause, with speculation of phosgene detection, though unconfirmed.

Phosgene, a chemical used in plastics and pesticides and infamous from World War One, was suspected. Emergency services responded promptly, with roads closed and barriers erected. Six individuals were hospitalized for breathing issues, including police officers who detected the smell. Evacuation measures were extensive, with nearby schools and residences affected.

The incident concluded without further incident, coinciding with Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson’s visit to Hungary, where Sweden’s Nato membership ratification is pending.

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Over 1,400 Finnish music industry professionals have signed a petition urging the exclusion of Israel from the Eurovision Song Contest due to alleged “war crimes” in Gaza. They are also calling for Finland to withdraw from the competition if Israel is not banned. The petition highlights concerns about Israel participating in Eurovision to enhance its image, and it follows similar demands made by Icelandic musicians to their broadcaster Rúv.

Yle, the Finnish broadcaster, is currently monitoring the stance of the European Broadcasting Union (EBU), the organizer of Eurovision. Signatories accuse Yle of double standards, pointing to its prompt call for a ban on Russia from the 2022 contest. Yle’s response suggests that the situation in Israel and Gaza is not considered equivalent to the inter-state aggression seen in the Russia-Ukraine conflict, according to Ville Vilén, a Yle representative.

The EBU has affirmed Israel’s participation in Eurovision, emphasizing that the event is for broadcasters, not governments, and that Israel’s public broadcaster, Kan, complies with all competition rules. Yle plans to engage with the petition’s authors, and the EBU has previously stated that Eurovision is a non-political event, with Israel’s participation spanning 50 years.

This year’s Eurovision is scheduled to take place in Malmö, Sweden, and the UK will be represented by pop star Olly Alexander. Alexander faced criticism for endorsing a statement accusing Israel of genocide, with Israel dismissing the arguments as “absurd” and attributing them to anti-Israel bias. The Gaza conflict, mentioned in the context of the petition, has resulted in a significant loss of lives, displacement, and humanitarian challenges in the region.

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Over 1,000 individuals who found themselves trapped in heavy snow for more than 24 hours on the main E22 road in southern Sweden have been successfully evacuated, as announced by Swedish authorities. The rescue operation involved a coordinated effort of snow ploughs and emergency teams working through the night to free people stranded in their vehicles.

The travel chaos unfolded against the backdrop of plummeting winter temperatures across the Nordic countries, affecting Sweden, Finland, and Norway. In Denmark, snowstorms led to drivers being stranded on a motorway near Aarhus since Wednesday. The severity of the weather was exemplified by the Kvikkjokk-Arrenjarka weather station in northern Sweden, which recorded its coldest night in 25 years with temperatures plummeting to -43.6°C.

The disruption on the main E22 began around 09:00 local time on Wednesday when heavy snow made the road impassable in both directions between Horby and Kristianstad. Hundreds of cars came to a standstill in snowdrifts, leading to what police spokesperson Evelina Olsson described as “total chaos.”

Rescue efforts persisted throughout the night, with the army mobilized to deliver food and water to those stranded. While all individuals traveling by car were successfully evacuated, by Thursday morning, only lorry drivers remained in their vehicles.

Conditions were gradually improving on Thursday morning, with many cars cleared from the road. However, authorities cautioned that the road would not be fully cleared until 08:00 on Friday at the earliest. Meanwhile, buses and trains were canceled in the Skane region, and authorities urged people to avoid non-essential travel during this period of severe winter weather.

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The surge in gang-related violence, including shootings and bombings, once confined to Sweden’s major cities, has now spilled into quieter suburbs and towns, challenging the nation’s reputation for safety. Upplands-Bro, a community north of Stockholm, has witnessed a series of incidents, including the tragic death of a 14-year-old boy in August and multiple shootings and bombings since January.

The shift in violence from impoverished urban areas is attributed, in part, to gangs targeting the relatives of their rivals. Law enforcement suspects that some of the recent violence is coordinated by criminal leaders based in other countries, such as Turkey and Serbia. The toll has been significant, with nearly 50 fatalities and over 140 explosions in 2023 alone, surpassing the previous year’s record of over 60 deaths from gun violence.

Gangs have evolved beyond street-level criminal activities, forming connections with higher-level criminals. Innocent bystanders, including a 70-year-old man and a 24-year-old teacher, have fallen victim to the violence. Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson acknowledged the severity of the situation in a rare national address, promising stricter penalties for deadly violence.

Children as young as 13 or 14 are being recruited into gangs through promises of money and designer clothes on social media. Concerned individuals are taking action, organizing street patrols in affected areas. Community engagement, like night walks and support for families affected by violence, is seen as a way to enhance safety.

In areas like Jarva, where unemployment rates are high, individuals like Libaane Warsame have taken it upon themselves to patrol the streets after losing a family member to gun violence. Despite a lack of fatal shootings this year, residents remain on edge.

The rise in gang violence has prompted the government to reevaluate immigration policies. The right-wing coalition government, elected in 2022, believes that the increase in violence is linked to past immigration policies. Steps include making it harder for immigrants outside the EU to receive social benefits and introducing compulsory preschool to improve Swedish-language skills in certain areas. Legislation against recruiting children for criminal activities has been enacted, and plans for stop-and-search zones and increased prison sentences for offenses, such as gun crimes and explosions, are in progress.

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In a recent case in Uppsala, Sweden, four teenage brothers and a 15-year-old girl have been sentenced by the court for the murder of a taxi driver. The victim had been reported for rape by the girl, and the court found that he was lured to a nature reserve with the promise of sexual favors due to the earlier allegations. The taxi driver was overpowered, and his body was discovered a week later, hanging from a tree in what appeared to be a staged suicide.

The eldest brother, who was 18 at the time, received a life sentence, while the four younger individuals, who were minors during the events, were sentenced to three to four years in a young offenders’ institution. The three older brothers were convicted of murder, while the girl and her boyfriend, both 15 at the time, were found not to be at the scene but were convicted of aiding and abetting the murder.

Despite the teenagers denying their involvement, the court relied on circumstantial evidence presented by prosecutors. Messages exchanged between them were used as evidence of a murder plot. Four days before the victim disappeared, the girl messaged a friend about her rapist, stating, “His brothers are going to meet my rapist.” Subsequent messages discussed the timing of the murder, with one brother suggesting, “We should do Friday,” and another agreeing.

After the killing, one of the brothers used the victim’s phone to transfer money from his bank account. The girl claimed she was unaware of the brothers’ intention to kill the man, stating she thought they would only beat him up. However, the court, led by Lars Holmgard, the president of the Uppsala District Court, ruled that the brothers had planned the murder, evident from the time they purchased the rope used in the crime. Holmgard stated, “The plan must have been for [the victim] to be hanged from the rope, in our opinion.”

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