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Finland: PM Resigns Over Use Of Classified Iraq Documents

  • Jeremy Bransten

Controversy over the Iraq war has claimed its first head of government -- but it wasnt Britains Tony Blair or U.S. President George W. Bush. Both face inquiries over whether the intelligence used to justify the war was accurate or possibly even distorted. Finnish Prime Minister Anneli Jaatteenmaki resigned yesterday after being accused of lying to parliament over her use of classified documents on Iraq.

Prague, 19 June 2003 (RFE/RL) -- The controversy over the U.S.-led war in Iraq has claimed its first head of government.

Newly elected Finnish Prime Minister Anneli Jaatteenmaki, the country's first female prime minister, announced her resignation yesterday after being accused of lying to parliament over her use of classified documents on Iraq. She had been in office just 63 days. "I have announced to my party colleagues that it is impossible for me to continue as prime minister. I will leave a letter of resignation during this evening [18 June]," she said.

The crisis that led to Jaatteenmaki's abrupt resignation erupted after a presidential aide, Martti Manninen, said the prime minister -- during her election campaign -- had requested and obtained confidential transcripts made by Finnish Foreign Ministry officials during their discussions with U.S. officials in Washington on the Iraq crisis.

Jaatteenmaki used information from those classified transcripts to accuse her opponent in a television debate, incumbent Paavo Lipponen, of siding with the United States, in defiance of Finland's publicly declared neutrality. Many believe the accusation helped Jaatteenmaki win the election.

But when doubts surfaced about how Jaatteenmaki obtained the classified information, she denied having requested it, telling parliament the incriminating transcript had been faxed to her office unsolicited.

Martti Manninen, the presidential aide who forwarded the transcripts, accused Jaatteenmaki of lying yesterday, saying he had prepared the material at her specific request. With that, Jaatteenmaki's fate was sealed.

Kari Huhta, foreign editor of "Helsingin Sanomat," Finland's leading daily newspaper, tells RFE/RL from Helsinki that the revelations have been a bombshell on the normally placid Finnish political scene: "This is not a country of high political drama. This is a fairly staid country as far as politics goes, much of the time. And yesterday, when all of this unfolded in several phases throughout the day, it was probably the most dramatic day in Finland's history for a very, very long time."

And the damage may not stop there. The fact that the aide who supplied Jaatteenmaki with the transcripts was a presidential adviser has been a blow to Finnish President Taja Halonen, although for now, her position appears secure: "It was a huge embarrassment and it remains to be seen, as details unfold, but for the moment, for all that's known, there is no implication that the president was involved in any way and it's been vigorously denied by her office that there would have been any knowledge on her part of what was going on."

Manninen has since been dismissed and could face criminal prosecution. Jaatteenmaki thus enters the history books having set two records -- as her country's first woman prime minister and its shortest-serving premier.

The ruling coalition, led by Jaatteenmaki's Center Party, is expected to remain in power and settle on a new prime minister next week. Observers expect Jaattenmaki's deputy within the Center Party, Defense Minister Martti Vanhanen, to be her successor.