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Swedish nationalist group surges ahead of election amid loud protests

STOCKHOLM (AP) — Polls in Sweden show a small anti-immigration party is likely to enter Parliament for the first time in elections Sunday, despite attempts by vuvuzela-blowing protesters to disrupt the nationalist group's campaign rallies.

The Sweden Democrats are warning that lenient immigration policies are threatening the country's welfare system, and a series of recent surveys shows the party has climbed above the 4 percent threshold necessary to enter to the legislature.

That could create disarray if neither the center-right government nor the left-wing opposition wins a majority in the 349-seat assembly, because neither side wants to rely on the support of the Sweden Democrats.

In the final days of campaigning, both blocs have warned voters against bringing the party into Parliament, saying it represents xenophobic views that don't belong in a country seen as tolerant and welcoming to refugees.

Jimmie Akesson, the leader of the Sweden Democrats, advocates sharp cuts in immigration and has called Islam the greatest foreign threat to Swedish society since World War II.

About 14 percent of Sweden's 9.4 million residents are foreign-born. The biggest waves of immigration have come from Finland, Iraq, the former Yugoslavia and Poland.

Hundreds of protesters tried to drown out Akesson's speech in Stockholm on Thursday by chanting and making noise with vuvuzelas — plastic horns of the kind used by spectators at the football (soccer) World Cup in South Africa.

Several other rallies have been canceled or interrupted because police feared violence by demonstrators. Scores of groups protesting the party have emerged on the Internet.

Akesson warned Thursday that "mass immigration" was eroding the welfare system.

"For us the priority is absolutely clear: we choose to restore the Swedish welfare system," Akesson told a few dozen supporters who were shielded by 200 police officers from a much larger crowd of protesters.

At a simultaneous rally for the governing alliance, Finance Minister Anders Borg urged campaign workers to speak to people considering voting for the Swedish Democrats and "beg them ... for the sake of Sweden, not to do it."

Some 12,000 immigrants countrywide walked out of their jobs for five minutes Thursday as part of a Facebook protest against the Sweden Democrats, organizer Damon Rasti said. He said workers from all fields, including doctors, bus drivers and artists, participated in the event, which was aimed at showing that immigrants are essential to Swedish society.

"It feels like immigrants are portrayed in a very negative light nowadays, we often hear about the problems with immigrants, but no one talks about the advantages of immigration," he said.

Still, the protests and demonstrations seem to have done little to diminish support for the Sweden Democrats.

Four different polls this week show Akesson's party getting between 4.1 and 7.5 percent of the vote. It's unclear whether it would get the chance to play kingmaker; several surveys show the center-right government is likely to retain its majority in Parliament.

A survey of 1,585 Swedes by pollster Synovate on Wednesday showed Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt's center-right coalition with 49.8 percent, nearly 9 percentage points ahead of the opposition Red-Green Alliance. The Sweden Democrats had 7.5 percent in the Sept. 2-13 poll. The margin of error was 2.8 percent.

Akesson criticized the two blocs for ruling out cooperation with his party.

"If this is what happens after Monday, that the others refuse to speak to us, then it is not our fault if there is parliamentary chaos," he said, before police and bodyguards whisked him away to a waiting car.

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Associated Press Writer Louise Nordstrom contributed to this report.

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