Iceland Leaders struggle to resolve political impasse

By DAVID KEYTON ,

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People protest in front of the Progressive Party headquarters building in Reykjavik, Iceland.

People protest in front of the Progressive Party headquarters building in Reykjavik, Iceland. (Photo: David Keyton)

Opposition lawmakers accused the Icelandic government of trying to cling to power Wednesday amid a political impasse after the prime minister stepped aside because of revelations of having offshore accounts.

Hundreds of people staged a noisy protest in the rain outside parliament in Reykjavik — the third consecutive day of demonstrations calling for a new government in the North Atlantic island nation.

Prime Minister Sigmundur David Gunnlaugsson stepped down Tuesday after a massive leak of documents from a Panamanian law firm showed it created offshore accounts for him and his wife.

Opposition lawmakers say those accounts revealed a significant conflict of interest with Gunnlaugsson's official duties.

He denied wrongdoing and recommended that his deputy, Sigurdur Ingi Johannsson, take over as prime minister for an unspecified period. Gunnlaugsson's center-right Progressive Party is in a coalition government with the Independence Party.

After a series of meetings stretching into the evening, the Progressive Party's Hoskuldur Thorhallsson said that the governing coalition will remain intact and that they want Johannsson to serve as prime minister.

However, Iceland's president has not yet accepted any political changes and there is strong opposition to that plan, which is expected to be expressed in a parliament session scheduled Thursday.

Iceland's opposition parties were furious about the political stalemate and may seek a new election.

Arni Pall Arnason, leader of the Social Democratic Alliance, said the two parties in the governing coalition are desperately trying to hang on to power without public support.

"What I think the government parties are trying to do is to cling onto power while doing the absolute minimum of changes in order to escape the public," he said. "The government doesn't want to confront the issue or face the public."

Asta Gudrun Helgadottir, a legislator with the popular Pirate Party, called the closed-door discussions undemocratic.

"We are actually waiting for them to decide what is happening, so we don't really have a voice in the negotiations," she said. "We are extremely unhappy at how things are going and at how things have been decided and how other members of Parliament have actually not been involved at all."

-AP

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