Danes make welfare a hot election issue as cracks show in Nordic model

92-year old Aase Blytsoe, who has dementia, sits in her apartment in Aarup, Denmark, May 28, 2019. REUTERS/Fabian Bimmer

By Jacob Gronholt-Pedersen

COPENHAGEN (Reuters) – The Nordic welfare model, long the envy of many across the world seeking an egalitarian utopia, is creaking.

Aging populations have led to politicians across the region chipping away at the generous cradle-to-grave welfare state for years. In Denmark, next week’s election could prove a turning point as frustrated voters say: No more.

Danes, like citizens of other Nordic nations, have largely been happy to shell out some of the highest taxes in the world, seeing them as a price worth paying for universal healthcare, education and elderly services.

However, spending cuts by successive governments to reduce the public deficit have led to more people paying out of their own pockets for what used to be free.

“We pay very high taxes in Denmark, and that’s alright. But in return, I think we can demand a certain service,” said pensioner Sonja Blytsoe.

Her 92-year old mother, who has dementia, was told by her local council in the central Danish town of Assens that the cleaning of her small apartment at a nursing home would be almost halved to 10 times a year.

Her mother, who lives off her state pension of 9,000 Danish crowns ($1,350) per month, could not afford to pay the roughly 1,000 crowns a month for a private cleaning firm, Blytsoe said.

In an illustration of the simmering public anger at such cuts, the council’s move sparked an outcry on social media that prompted the prime minister to comment on the case in parliament and the decision to be reversed.

The erosion of the welfare state has now become a defining issue in the June 5 general election in a country where people hand over an average 36% of their personal income to the state each month.

Opinion polls indicate Prime Minister Lars Lokke Rasmussen of the Liberal Party will lose power to Mette Frederiksen of the center-left Social Democratic Party.

Frederiksen’s Social Democrats have won popular support by pledging to increase public spending, making businesses and the wealthy pay more toward welfare services through higher taxes, and to partially roll back some recent pension reforms by allowing people who have worked 40 years to retire earlier.

However Rasmussen has accused his rival of being in “the business of selling dreams”.

“Either you’ll leave voters massively disappointed, or leave an enormous hole in the treasury,” he told Frederiksen about her pension plans during a TV debate earlier this year.

DANES GO PRIVATE

The Nordic model has been held up as the gold standard for welfare by many left-leaning politicians and activists globally.

It featured in the last U.S. presidential election campaign, for example, when Democratic candidate Bernie Sanders pointed to Denmark as a model for his vision of an ideal American future.

However the tough choices confronting Denmark are reflected across Nordic nations faced with a generation of baby-boomers creeping into retirement. Voters feeling a rising sense of insecurity are increasingly pressuring politicians to safeguard their cherished welfare model.

In Finland, the Social Democrats came out on top in an April election, for the first time in 20 years, after campaigning on tax hikes to meet the rising costs of welfare.

In Sweden, one of Europe’s richest countries, support for the nationalist Sweden Democrats surged in last year’s election on the back of fears over immigration and welfare.

Nordic countries still top other high-spending OECD countries like the United States, Germany and Japan for public spending per capita on social benefits targeted at the poor, the elder, disabled, sick or unemployed.

Denmark itself spends a higher proportion of its wealth on public welfare than most European countries, at 28% of GDP, behind only France, Belgium and Finland.

But many Danes are distressed at the way things are going following two decades of economic reforms.

Cuts to healthcare services, which include everything from free doctor appointments to cancer treatment, have led to the closure of a quarter of state hospitals in the past decade alone.

A recent survey showed that more than half of Danes don’t trust the public health service to offer the right treatment. As a consequence the proportion of the 5.7 million Danish population taking out private health insurance has jumped to 33% from 4% in 2003, according to trade organization Insurance & Pension Denmark.

Other cuts over the past 10 years have led to the closure of a fifth of state schools, while spending per person above 65 years on services such as care homes, cleaning and rehabilitation after illness has dropped by a quarter.

Since the early 2000s, governments have also pushed through unpopular measures to encourage people to work longer.

They include gradually increasing the retirement age to 73 – the highest in the world – in decades to come from 65 currently, phasing out early retirement benefits and cutting unemployment benefits to two years from four.

Click here for interactive graphics illustrating the pressures on the welfare model: https://tmsnrt.rs/2LYT6ME

SPENDING CONTEST

While the policies have generated economic growth averaging 1.6% since 2010 – above the EU average – and sound public finances, the election could mark a change of direction.

Frederiksen says she will increase public spending by 0.8% per year over the next five years – the equivalent of 37 billion Danish crowns in 2025 – to buttress welfare.

“The reason you can’t agree to spend the money needed to keep the current (welfare) level is that you want to set aside money for tax cuts,” she told Rasmussen during the TV debate.

Frederiksen is however bound by a 2012 law not to allow a public deficit of more than 0.5% of GDP, much stricter than EU rules setting the ceiling at 3%.

Her message about increased spending is nonetheless going down well with the public, along with a tougher stance on immigration which has also helped her win voters from the anti-immigration Danish People’s Party.

Rasmussen has argued that an acceptable level of welfare can be achieved in part by technological advances and letting more private players into areas like health and elderly care.

But this month, in a change of tack to address voters’ concerns, he announced a new plan to raise public spending by 0.65% a year – almost the same rate as the Social Democrats.

‘NOT ENOUGH PEOPLE’

With government debt at 49% of GDP, way below the OECD average of 111%, and a budget close to being balanced, there is room to raise welfare spending, according to economists.

However Jan Stoerup Nielsen at Nordea said certain election promises, such as those by both candidates to come up with 1,000-2,000 new nurses, were unrealistic at a time of record high employment of 2.77 million, or 97% of those able to work.

“The problem is that there’s not enough people,” he added. “There is not much politicians can do at the moment. You can say you want a thousand new nurses in the hospitals, but they are nowhere to be found,” he added.

He warned more public spending risked overheating the economy and hurting growth down the line if more people shifted from the private to public sector.

Pensioner Blytsoe said that when her mother’s services were curbed, she did her best to tidy up the apartment when she visited, but refused to do the regular cleaning previously offered by the state.

“If I did that, the municipality would’ve achieved their goal to cut costs and make us fill the gap.”

(Reporting by Jacob Gronholt-Pedersen; Editing by Pravin Char)

Major European nations recognize Guaido as Venezuela president

FILE PHOTO: Venezuela's opposition leader Juan Guaido speaks during a news conference in Caracas, Venezuela, January 25, 2019. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins/File Photo

By Jose Elas Rodriguez and Sudip Kar-Gupta

MADRID/PARIS (Reuters) – Ten European nations joined the United States in recognizing opposition leader Juan Guaido as Venezuela’s interim president on Monday, heightening a global showdown over Nicolas Maduro’s socialist rule.

France, Spain, Germany, Britain, Portugal, Sweden, Denmark, Austria, the Czech Republic and the Netherlands’ coordinated move came after the expiry of an eight-day ultimatum for Maduro to call a new election.

The Venezuelan leader, accused of running the OPEC nation of 30 million people like a dictatorship and wrecking its economy, has defied them and said European rulers are sycophantically following President Donald Trump.

Guaido, who leads the National Assembly, declared himself caretaker leader last month in a move that has divided international powers and brought Venezuelans onto the streets.

Trump immediately recognized him but European Union countries were more hesitant.

Russia and China, which have poured billions of dollars of investment and loans into Venezuela, are supporting Maduro in an extension of their geopolitical tussle with the United States.

“From today, we will spare no effort in helping all Venezuelans achieve freedom, prosperity and harmony,” Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez said, urging fair elections and humanitarian aid.

In response, Maduro accused “cowardly” Spain of taking a “malign” decision. “If one day there is a coup, if one day there is a gringo military intervention, your hands will be stained with blood, Mr. Pedro Sanchez,” he said in a speech.

Maduro, 56, a former union leader, bus driver and foreign minister, replaced former president Hugo Chavez in 2013 after his death from cancer. But he has presided over an economic collapse and exodus of 3 million Venezuelans.

He accuses Washington of waging an “economic war” on Venezuela and harboring coup pretensions aimed at gaining control over its oil. Venezuela’s oil reserves are the largest in the world but production has plunged under Maduro.

“ILLEGITIMATE, KLEPTOCRATIC REGIME”

Critics say incompetent policies and corruption have impoverished the once-wealthy nation while dissent has been brutally crushed.

A draft EU statement said the 28-member bloc would “acknowledge” Guaido as interim president, but formal recognition was a prerogative of individual states.

“The oppression of the illegitimate, kleptocratic Maduro regime must end,” said British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt as he announced London was recognizing Guaido.

Russia accused Europe of meddling.

“Imposing some kind of decisions or trying to legitimize an attempt to usurp power is both direct and indirect interference,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters.

Caracas pays both Russian and Chinese loans with oil.

Maduro won re-election last year, but critics say the vote was a sham. Two opposition rivals with a good chance of winning were barred, while food handouts and other subsidies to hungry Venezuelans were linked with political support.

Italy’s 5-Star Movement, which makes up half of the ruling coalition, dissents from the European stance, saying it would not recognize self-appointed leaders.

But its governing partner, the League, disagrees.

Guaido told Italian newspaper Corriere Della Sera that he would do everything possible to secure Italian support.

In addition to European pressure, a bloc of Latin American nations plus Canada were to meet on Monday seeking to maintain pressure on Maduro.

“All these shameless people are clinging to power,” said Luis, a 45-year-old Venezuelan outside the consulate in Madrid. “Let them hold elections so they see they won’t get even 10 percent of the votes.”

Italy’s SkyTG24 channel quoted Maduro as appealing to the Pope to help dialogue ahead of what he hoped would be a “peace conference” led by Mexico and others on Feb. 7. Conscious of the collapse of a past Vatican mediation bid, foes say Maduro uses dialogue to play for time and regroup when on the back foot.

(Reporting by Sudip Kar-Gupta and Marine Pennetier in Paris; Guy Faulconbridge and Mike Holden in London; Jose Elias Rodriguez in Madrid; Andrew Osborn and Thomas Balmforth in Moscow; Andrei Khalip in Lisbon; Steve Scherer in Rome; Alissa de Carbonnel and Gabriela Baczynska in Brussels; Toby Sterling in Amsterdam; Sarah Marsh in Caracas; Writing by Andrew Cawthorne; Editing by Janet Lawrence and Raissa Kasolowsky)

Norway unseats Denmark as world’s happiest country

General view of a small harbour and snow-capped mountains in Bals-Fiord, north of the Arctic Circle, near the village of Mestervik in northern Norway.

By Patricia Reaney

NEW YORK (Reuters) – Norway displaced Denmark as the world’s happiest country in a new report released on Monday that called on nations to build social trust and equality to improve the wellbeing of their citizens.

The Nordic nations are the most content, according to the World Happiness Report 2017 produced by the Sustainable Development Solutions Network (SDSN), a global initiative launched by the United Nations in 2012.

Countries in sub-Saharan Africa, along with Syria and Yemen, are the least happy of the 155 countries ranked in the fifth annual report released at the United Nations.

“Happy countries are the ones that have a healthy balance of prosperity, as conventionally measured, and social capital, meaning a high degree of trust in a society, low inequality and confidence in government,” Jeffrey Sachs, the director of the SDSN and a special advisor to the United Nations Secretary-General, said in an interview.

A girl stands on her hands near Vang, Norway. Svein

A girl stands on her hands near Vang, Norway. Svein Nordrum/NTB Scanpix/via REUTERS

The aim of the report, he added, is to provide another tool for governments, business and civil society to help their countries find a better way to wellbeing.

Denmark, Iceland, Switzerland, Finland, Netherlands, Canada, New Zealand, Australia and Sweden rounded out the top ten countries.

South Sudan, Liberia, Guinea, Togo, Rwanda, Tanzania, Burundi and the Central African Republic were at the bottom.

Germany was ranked 16, followed by the United Kingdom (19) and France (31). The United States dropped one spot to 14.

Sachs said the United States is falling in the ranking due to inequality, distrust and corruption. Economic measures that the administration of President Donald Trump is trying to pursue, he added, will make things worse.

“They are all aimed at increasing inequality – tax cuts at the top, throwing people off the healthcare rolls, cutting Meals on Wheels in order to raise military spending. I think everything that has been proposed goes in the wrong direction,” he explained.

The rankings are based on six factors — per capita gross domestic product, healthy life expectancy, freedom, generosity, social support and absence of corruption in government or business.

“The lowest countries are typically marked by low values in all six variables,” said the report, produced with the support of the Ernesto Illy Foundation.

People stand on the roof of the Opera House, with buildings of The Barcode Project in the background, in Oslo, Norway

People stand on the roof of the Opera House, with buildings of The Barcode Project in the background, in Oslo, Norway August 2013. Svein Nordrum/NTB Scanpix/via REUTERS

Sachs would like nations to follow United Arab Emirates and other countries that have appointed Ministers of Happiness.

“I want governments to measure this, discuss it, analyze it and understand when they have been off on the wrong direction,” he said.

(Reporting by Patricia Reaney; Editing by Alistair Bell)

French foie gras makers worry as bird flu spreads in Europe

Employee holds a duck liver in at a poultry farm in Doazit, Southwestern France,

By Sybille de La Hamaide

PARIS (Reuters) – New outbreaks in Europe of a severe strain of bird flu pose a fresh worry for French foie gras producers, already reeling from lost sales last year when the virus emerged in southwestern France.

The run-up to Christmas coincides with peak demand for the delicacy, France’s favorite festive treat, made from duck or goose liver.

Marie-Pierre Pe from foie gras makers group CIFOG, said on Monday that prices could be 10 percent higher this Christmas after the French government’s decision last year to cull all ducks and geese, and halt output for four months, in a bid to contain the virus.

Farmers hope that stricter measures in place at French farms to spare birds from contamination after last year’s crisis will better protect their industry should the current outbreak of the H5N8 strain, already seen in neighboring Germany and Switzerland and other European countries, hit France.

“When I heard about new bird flu cases in Europe, I thought: It can’t be true, the nightmare is not going to start all over again,” Pe told Reuters.

“We did all that is needed to prepare farmers since the start of the year but we are never immune from birds contaminating a farm,” she said.

Producers estimate the freezing of output had cost the industry around 500 million euros ($539 million), including a 270 million euros loss in sales and additional costs for new biosecurity material.

The 25 percent drop in output and higher costs will lead to the rise in prices of foie gras products this year, Pe said.

Sold whole or as a pate, foie gras is considered a gourmet food in Western and Asian cuisine, but the practice of force-feeding has often been criticized as cruel by animal activists.

CIFOG held regular meetings with farmers this year to explain biosecurity measures put in place after the crisis, such as better protecting food and water from wild birds, Pe said. Farmers in southwestern France, the top foie gras producing region, also face stricter rules to avoid contamination between farms, notably through equipment disinfection.

As well as Germany and Switzerland, Austria, Hungary, Poland, the Netherlands, Denmark and Croatia, have also reported outbreaks of the highly contagious H5N8 bird flu in recent weeks.

No case of bird flu has been found in France so far this time but the country raised surveillance measures on Thursday to keep wild migrating birds from transmitting the virus to farm poultry.

Denmark ordered farmers to keep their poultry indoors on Monday due to the bird flu threat and Germany said it was considering ordering farmers to keep their flocks inside.

(Reporting by Sybille de La Hamaide; Editing by Susan Fenton)

Danish court finds pizzeria owner guilty of fighting for Islamic State

COPENHAGEN (Reuters) – A Copenhagen court found a Danish pizzeria owner guilty on Wednesday of joining Islamic State (IS) to fight in Syria, the first such case in the Nordic country.

The verdict comes amid concerns of increased radicalization among Muslims in Europe and deadly attacks claimed by Islamic State militants in Paris and Brussels.

The court found the 24-year-old defendant, who holds both Danish and Turkish passports, guilty of allowing himself to be recruited in 2013 by IS in order to commit terrorist acts in Syria.

The man, who was arrested in March 2015, had denied fighting for IS, but admitted to having worked as a baker for the group in Syria.

He is expected to be sentenced later on Wednesday.

Danish authorities have been on high alert since two people were killed in shooting attacks at a free speech event and at a synagogue in Copenhagen in February 2015.

In April Danish police arrested four other people suspected of having been recruited by IS to commit terrorist acts and two others of breaking Danish weapons law.

More than 125 people from Denmark are believed to have joined IS after going to Syria and Iraq, the intelligence service said in October, adding that at least 27 of them had died there.

(Reporting by Nikolaj Skydsgaard; Editing by Jacob Gronholt-Pedersen and Gareth Jones)

Not in my backyard? Mainstream Scandinavia warily eyes record immigration

OSLO-STOCKHOLM (Reuters) – Norwegian officials called the school guards “extra supervision”. Critics said the plan to post security personnel near an Oslo school in case of assaults by newly arrived refugees was an ugly euphemism for intolerance.

Across the border in the far northern Swedish town of Kalix, a traditional bastion of center-left politics, over 100 residents signed a petition against plans to turn a 19th century country house into a reception center for unaccompanied minors.

The debate among these liberal Scandinavian stalwarts would have been unheard of a year ago, underscoring how concern about a record influx of immigrants is percolating into the Nordics’ mainstream from the populist fringes.

Anti-immigrant, populist parties have gained support since some 250,000 refugees entered the Nordics last year. A record 163,000 refugees arrived in Sweden and the far right is vying for top spot in polls. In Denmark, the anti-immigration Danish People’s Party is the second largest in parliament.

But it is a backlash among the mainstream that may be the biggest change. There are signs that voters may be broadly supportive of immigrants but not in their own backyard. From welfare cuts to new ID checks, it is a trend that shows the limits of even some of Europe’s most open societies, and may represent a sea change for politics in Scandinavia.

“It’s a big change happening close to us. In all neighborhoods there are concerns,” said Pia Almvang, head of the parents’ association at Lysaker primary school in a leafy well-to-do area of villas near Oslo, cut through by a motorway with cheaper four-storey blocks of flats built alongside.

“The parents just want to look after their kids.”

The town council agreed to parents’ requests for extra security by a motorway underpass near a refugee center for 600 people that opened this month. After criticisms of “asylum guards” the proposal was withdrawn, but it had already polarized this middle class community.

A February survey showed immigration as the main concern for 40 percent of Swedes, easily trumping worries over failing schools, joblessness and welfare. The change over half a year was the biggest opinion swing in the poll’s history.

From taking in Vietnam draft dodgers in the 1960s to Balkans war refugees in the 1990s, Sweden has been proud of its open door policy for decades. Norway has been among the leaders in helping refugees worldwide with aid.

While the asylum situation has led to an outpouring of support from many Swedes – charities reported record donations last year – it has also led others to worry about the effect on schools, crime and the country’s welfare state.

TENSION AT HOME

In Kalix, hit by a decline in the paper industry but still a bastion of Social Democrat support, residents have petitioned the council to abandon plans for a center for around 30 unaccompanied children.

“I have a big heart and I believe we have to help, so it’s not about that, but enough is enough,” said Anne-Maj Ostlund, a 75-year-old retired school teacher who lives close to the yellow-painted wooden villa in Kalix, being used as a hostel

“I have lived in heaven here … it is peaceful,” said Ostlund, who has lived in the same house since 1948. “What is going to be left?”

Middle class neighborhoods in Stockholm and Gothenburg have seen meetings where furious citizens have questioned politicians over refugees’ housing.

Police were called to one meeting in Haninge, near Stockholm, where the local authority had gathered residents and parents of pupils at a nearby school to inform them about plans for a center for unaccompanied minors.

Council workers were met by shouts of “they are going to rape our children,” and “who will take responsibility when someone dies”.

Mainstream parties in Sweden are now proposing measures against immigration that were only the ground of the far right a few years ago. Prime Minister Stefan Lofven, who once told crowds that “My Europe does not build walls”, tightened asylum rules and border controls with ID checks.

In Denmark a bill tightening immigration laws, including the confiscation of refugees’ valuables, passed with overwhelming support including the center-left Social Democrats.

Sweden’s Moderate Party, the biggest of the center-right opposition, wants to limit asylum seekers’ access to welfare.

It was a sign of the times that when Sweden’s center left interior minister said the government would deport 80,000 immigrants this year, former Foreign Minister Carl Bildt tweeted the “probable aim is to send a signal that new ones are not welcome.”

The concerns are not just related to security but that the Nordic state is under threat from the high fiscal cost of newcomers and the sense that civic trust which underpins a culture of high taxes is being eroded.

Nordic nations have the highest percentage of people agreeing that “most people can be trusted” when asked in international surveys, helping drive a consensus for high taxes and extensive welfare.

“The Nordic welfare state works due to trust. You have to trust that people work and pay taxes when they are able to do so,” said Gert Tinggaard, professor of political science at Denmark’s Aarhus University.

“The second condition is that you also have to trust the politicians,” he added. “You get a bang for your buck.”

The IMF estimates that Sweden will spend 1.0 percent of its gross domestic product on asylum seekers in 2016, by far the highest of 19 European nations surveyed.

Last year, Sweden had to find an extra 70,000 school places due to asylum seekers, on top of 100,000 pupils that normally enter the school system for the first time in any given year.

In a country where speaking out against immigration is still taboo for many, Scandinavians privately voice concerns about signs of crowded emergency rooms and larger school classes. Newspapers are increasingly full of reports of money being spent on refugees and reports of crime involving asylum seekers, although crime figures do not bear out these concerns.

Lofven – who admits Sweden faces increased polarization – has seen his government’s support fall to record lows in polls due to a sense his government is helpless to stop a migrant influx.

For Ylva Johansson, Swedish minister for employment and integration issues, the problem is that thousands of refugees, many young men, are not integrated into the workforce, instead languishing in asylum centers in villages and towns.

“Most Swedes are not racist,” she said. “But when there is this special asylum housing when they cannot work, and cannot be part of society this is really a tension.

“This is a dangerous situation,” she added. “We have a lot of people in no man’s land .. living outside society.”

(Additional reporting by Daniel Dickson and Johan Ahlander in Stockholm, Sabina Zawadzki in Copenhagen; Writing by Alistair Scrutton; Editing by Janet McBride)

Denmark passes tough migrant law as Nordic refugee welcome dims

COPENHAGEN (Reuters) – Denmark’s parliament passed measures on Tuesday aimed at deterring refugees from seeking asylum, including confiscating valuables to pay for their stay, despite protests from international human rights organizations.

The measures, which also include extending family reunification among refugees from one year to three years, are the latest sign that the Nordic welcome for refugees is waning as large numbers flee war in Africa and Middle East for a better life in Europe.

The “jewelry bill” is the latest attempt by Denmark’s minority center-right government to curb immigration to a country that took in a record 20,000 refugees last year.

Under the bill, refugees could keep possessions amounting to 10,000 Danish crowns ($1,450), raised from 3,000 crowns after criticism from human rights organizations. Valuables of special emotional value such as wedding rings will be exempt.

The Liberals Party government has just 34 out of 179 seats in parliament and depends on support of rightist parties, including the anti-immigration Danish People’s Party (DF), to pass laws.

During a three and a half hour debate, dissenting voices from small leftwing parties were heard including from Red Green Alliance.

But the bill passed with an overwhelming majority, backed by the main center-left opposition party Social Democrats, highlighting a shift to the right in Denmark’s political landscape thanks to DF’s popularity and rising concern over refugee numbers.

“I wouldn’t say that I have become racist or anything,” said Poul Madsen, a taxi driver, before the bill was passed. “But I may be more aware of the fact that this has some downsides and may be a potential problem for our society and our economy.”

NORDIC WELCOME FADES

Denmark is not the only one Nordxic country trying to shut its doors to migrants. Sweden, which took in over 160,000 refugees last year, the most per capita in Europe, introduced checks on its border to Denmark at the start of the year.

Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Lofven promised on Monday more resources for police after an employee was stabbed to death at a refugee center for unaccompanied minors. A minor was arrested on suspicion of murder or manslaughter after the incident in western Sweden, local TT news agency reported.

A poll on Monday showed support for Lofven’s Social Democrats at its lowest for nearly 50 years, in part due to a sense the government was unable to cope with the refugee influx.

Norway, meanwhile, has been trying to send back refugees who crossed over from Russia. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on Tuesday Moscow would not take them back.

Denmark is also not alone in targeting migrants’ valuables. Switzerland has started taking valuables from asylum seekers over 1,000 Swiss francs ($985), the German state of Baden-Württemberg valuables above 350 euros ($380), while other southern states have been reported to do the same.

“Most (refugees) have lost everything and yet this legislation appears to say that the few fortunate enough to have survived the trip to Denmark with their few remaining possessions haven’t lost enough,” the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) said, mirroring criticism from many organizations.

(Additional reporting by Annabella Pultz and Erik Matzen; Writing by Sabina Zawadzki; Editing by Alistair Scrutton and Richard Balmforth)

Denmark Gunman “Came Out Wanting To Wage Holy War”

A friend of the gunman who killed two people and wounded four others in Denmark is telling the media that he came out of prison wanting to “wage Holy war.”

The gunman, identified as 22-year-old Omar Abdel Hamid El-Hussein, belonged to the Brothas gang and had a long, violent criminal history.  He had been behind bars for two years in the stabbing of a 19-year-old and was only released two weeks ago.

“He went into prison a gang member, one of us—a petty criminal, I suppose. He came out wanting to wage a holy war,” friend Abo Saddam, 24, told the UK Mirror. “I don’t know who he spoke to in jail, but he must have made friends with other Muslims who made him the way he was when he came out.”

Saddam told the newspaper that it was recent attacks that fanned the flames.

“Prison changed him. He became a much harder Muslim with more hardcore beliefs. Not only that but he wanted to act on those beliefs as well, instead of just talking about them,” he continued. “He was inspired by the Charlie Hebdo attacks– I am sure of it—[and believed that] anyone who makes a mockery of Islam deserves to die.”

Two people have been arrested in connection with the attacks for helping El-Hussein with the murderous rampage.

Denmark Police Kill Terrorist After Dual Attacks

Police in Copenhagen, Denmark have killed a terrorist who carried out two attacks on Saturday that left two dead and four wounded.

The first attack struck at the Krudttoenden café in Osterbro during an event featuring an artist who created paintings of Muhammad.  The event, “Art, Blasphemy and Freedom of Expression,” was to include discussion of Islam and the terrorist attack on Charlie Hebdo.

Police say the terrorist gunman shot over 200 rounds of ammunition into the café from the street.  A 40-year-old man in attendance was killed and two police officers were wounded.

“Denmark has today been hit by a cynical act of violence,” Danish Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt stated following the incident. “Everything suggests that the shooting in Osterbro was a political assassination and thus an act of terrorism.”

The gunman fled but later opened fire near a synagogue in the Krystalgade area.  A guard was killed and two bystanders were injured.

Danish police found the gunman at a train station in Norrebro.  He was shot by police after he pulled a gun and moved to open fire on officers.