New blow for Swedish PM as aide quits over scandal

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STOCKHOLM, Nov 1 (Reuters) Swedish Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt's scandal-hit administration suffered a fresh blow today when a top aide resigned after it was disclosed that she had been out drinking while on duty.

Undersecretary of State Ulrica Schenstrom resigned after Swedish media published pictures of her embracing a journalist in a bar and reported that she had been drunk.

Reinfeldt said today he had questioned Schenstrom about the affair and she had told him she had not been drunk. But when he saw the bill for the evening, he lost confidence in her, he said.

''I now feel that the alcohol consumption, proved by facts, probably passed the limit that I can defend,'' he told a news conference. ''This is one of my most difficult moments in politics.'' Asked if she had resigned or been fired, Reinfeldt said: ''She has used up her trust as an undersecretary of state.'' Schenstrom, considered one of Reinfeldt's closest aides, had been his press secretary in the runup to last year's election. She issued a statement saying she had acted inappropriately and had lost the support necessary to do her job.

''The pictures that have been published, and the fact that I had conversations with a journalist and in that circumstance drank wine, are regrettable,'' she said.

Opposition politicians questioned Reinfeldt's ability to lead the government.

Schenstrom's resignation is the fifth high-profile departure since Reinfeldt and a Moderate Party-led coalition won an election just over a year ago. Soon after the government was formed, two ministers resigned over separate tax scandals.

In September, the defence ministers stepped down over frustration at cuts to the defence budget.

Last month a chief aide to the financial markets minister resigned just weeks after his appointment, following a scandal at the firm where he had previously worked, investment bank Carnegie.

REUTERS RJ BD2201

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