Naharnet

Iceland Braces for Major Anti-Govt. Protest

Iceland was gearing up Saturday for a major anti-government rally in a test of the opposition's ability to mobilize support following the "Panama Papers" scandal revelations that toppled the premier.

Saturday's demonstration, which is to begin at 1400 GMT, follows five consecutive days of protests sparked by the leak of millions of documents exposing the hidden offshore dealings of political figures and celebrities across the world.

Since Monday, when the Panama Papers story hit front pages around the world, thousands of Icelanders have taken to the streets in a historic show of force with Prime Minister Sigmundur David Gunnlaugsson, becoming the first political casualty of the revelations.

Hurling eggs and yoghurt at the parliament, protestors demanded his resignation following allegations that he and his wife used an offshore firm to hide million-dollar investments.

The issue is particularly sensitive in Iceland following the 2008 collapse of the nation's three main banks, which plunged the country into a deep recession and left thousands mired in debt.

After Gunnlaugsson's resignation, there was a government reshuffle with Sigurdur Ingi Johannsson, a serving minister, taking over as head of the center-right coalition comprising the Progressive Party and its junior partner, the Independence Party.

Although he pledged to bring the elections forward by about six months, there has been no let up in the protests or calls for the entire coalition's ouster.

Johannsson, who held the fisheries and agriculture portfolio in Gunnlaugsson's government, is seen by critics as emblematic of the old guard that turned a blind eye to the reckless investments that brought about Iceland's financial meltdown.

According to a poll carried out by Reykjavik University on Thursday and Friday, just over half -- 51 percent -- of Icelanders want to see a general election held as early as May or June, while 26 percent agree with Johannsson's proposal to hold the ballot in the autumn.

Another 23 want elections to go ahead as scheduled in April 2017, the poll showed.

Johannsson himself only enjoys 23 percent of support.

On Friday, the parliament rejected an opposition motion of no-confidence in the reshuffled government, which -- as expected -- was voted down by 38 votes to 25.

Another motion, calling for the immediate dissolution of parliament was similarly defeated.

But its critics remain undeterred.

"Those of us in opposition are in complete agreement over the situation. And it seems that the people agree with us," said Steingrimur Sigfusson from the Left-Green Movement.

The government "cannot claim to inspire confidence because it has not renewed its mandate" through an election, said Helgi Hrafn Gunnarsson of the libertarian Pirate Party, that has surged in the polls since the crisis.

Formed in 2012 and campaigning for more transparency in politics, Internet freedoms and copyright reform, the Pirate Party is now credited with a whopping 43 percent of voter support.

Its support stems from massive frustration over the political establishment's implication in two major financial scandals: the country's 2008 banking crash, and now the Panama Papers leaks.

The offshore issue is particularly sensitive in Iceland, a country marked by the excesses of the 2000s when senior bankers used shell companies in tax havens to conceal their dealings in risky financial products which ultimately led to the 2008 collapse of the nation's three main banks.

Source: Agence France Presse


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