Small Avalanche Falls in Neskaupstaður

ICE-SAR

Another avalanche fell above the town of Neskaupstaður in East Iceland shortly after noon today, Mbl.is reports. The avalanche, which was relatively small, did not reach the town’s protective barriers. In an announcement published today, the East Iceland Police stated that evacuation orders would remain in effect.

Three avalanches, evacuation orders come into effect

After three avalanches struck Neskaupstaður on the night of March 26, and the early morning of March 27, evacuation orders for Neskaupstaður, Seyðisfjörður, and Eskiförður – all located in Iceland’s East Fjords – came into effect. No serious injuries were sustained.

Evacuation orders were lifted for some of the houses in the area yesterday.

As reported by Mbl.is, however, another small avalanche fell above Neskaupstaður shortly after noon today. Rescue workers and reporters were inside the evacuated area and witnessed the avalanche falling firsthand.

Following a meeting of operations control in East Iceland with representatives of the Icelandic MET Office this morning, the East Iceland Police announced that evacuation orders would remain in effect. The authorities are also considering whether to reinstate evacuation orders previously lifted for select areas.

As noted in the announcement, the weather forecast predicts that snowfall will be followed by rain, which may be followed by sleet and possible slush floods. Given the possibility of slush floods, among other things, the police, in collaboration with local authorities, are drawing up plans.

For further information, residents are encouraged to exercise caution and to view evacuation charts on the website of the MET Office: Eskifjörður, Neskaupstaður, Seyðisfjörður.

Record Participation in Reykjavík Open Chess Tournament

Record-breaking participation is expected at this afternoon’s Reykjavík chess tournament, reflecting a global surge in chess interest, Vísir reports. Icelandic Chess Federation President Gunnar Björnsson maintains that the event is one of the world’s most prestigious and competitive tournaments.

Over 400 participants

The Reykjavík Open chess tournament began at 3 PM today at the Harpa Music and Conference Hall. The week-long tournament will commence with Mayor Dagur B. Eggertsson playing the first game. Over 400 participants will compete, dwarfing the previous record of 272.

In an interview with Vísir, the President of the Icelandic Chess Federation, Gunnar Björnsson, tried to account for the surge in popularity: “Iceland is, of course, a popular destination. Last year’s anniversary celebration (50 years have passed since the so-called “Duel of the Century,” between Bobby Fischer and defending champion Boris Spassky) also helps. But then there’s also the fact that interest in chess around the world has exploded; there is a huge interest in chess in the world. It has only increased in recent months,” Gunnar observed.

As noted by Vísir, Icelanders are the most numerous competitors at the tournament, or 85 competitors, while the Germans are the most numerous foreign competitors with 60 players. Competitors at the tournament hail from 47 different countries, including Kazakhstan, Singapore, Australia, and Sri Lanka.

Gunnar told Vísir that around 4,000 overnight stays in the city’s hotels could be expected due to the tournament. The Reykjavík Open, which was first held in 1964, has a strong position in the chess world.

“The Reykjavík Open is one of the largest open chess tournaments in the world. I would place it in the top three – or even higher. This is considered one of the most remarkable and classiest tournaments and one of the most famous in history.”

There have also never been more grandmasters competing at the tournament: “Thirty-four, which comes to approximately 10% of competitors; that’s pretty good,” Gunnar observed.

Of those thirty-four grandmasters, six are Icelandic, including the most recent Icelandic grandmaster Vignir Vatnar Stefánsson and the women’s grandmaster Lenka Ptácníková. The top scorer of the competitors is the Ukrainian Vasyl Ivanchuk. Other strong players include Swede Nils Grandelius and Norwegian Aryan Tari.

Gunnar concluded by saying that Ivanchuk was favoured to win the competition, although “the unexpected could always happen.”

The tournament will come to a close on Tuesday, April 4.

Minister Admits “Citing Rumours” Before Parliament Was Wrong

Iceland's Althing

In a speech before Parliament yesterday, the Minister of Justice questioned whether an unnamed MP had accepted “special tokens of gratitude” in exchange for granting citizenship to asylum seekers. In a Facebook post later that day, the Minister of Justice stated that he had been “wrong to cite rumours” before Parliament and that such a thing had not been his wont in the past.

The minister apologises

In a speech before Parliament yesterday, Minister of Justice Jón Gunnarsson made an oblique reference to a rumour that an MP had voted on citizenship applications for individuals for whom the MP had lobbied.

“Was it possible that someone had come to the table having previously been engaged in promoting the interests of asylum seekers who were being granted citizenship? Have people been awarded any special tokens of gratitude for having granted citizenship? These are, perhaps, questions that call for a review by the committee so as to determine whether any such rumours are substantiated,” Jón said in his speech.

Members of the opposition did not respond kindly to this accusation; Helga Vala, MP for the Social Democratic Alliance, was the first to respond to Jón’s statements:

“This is such an abomination, I’m so fed up with this. I’m so fed up with this slander from members of parliament and ministers of the Independence Party, that I just wish that the speaker would intervene whenever they show up armed with lies. I’ve had enough. Try to exercise some control please,” Helga Vala asked of the speaker.

A statement on Facebook

Yesterday evening, Justice Minister Jón Gunnarsson published a post on Facebook admitting that it had “not been right of him” to refer to a rumour on the floor of Parliament. He stated that it did not occur to him that he was accusing anyone of having accepted bribes and that it was not his intention of accusing MPs of accepting bribes in any way.

Bryndís Haraldsdóttir, Member of Parliament for the Independence Party and Chair of the National Defense and Education Committee, told RÚV that the minister’s words before parliament were not worthy of him. “I think he went a little too far in this regard, and he apologised for that, and I think he’s a better man for it,” Bryndís remarked.

Þórhildur Sunna Ævarsdóttir, MP for the Pirate Party, disagreed with her colleague’s assessment vis-a-vis that Jón had apologised. “He did not apologise … he’s simply trying to divert the attention of the media and the public from the fact that the Directorate of Immigration had been prevented from handing over documents to the committee.”

Inflation Dips Below 10%, Finance Minister Cautiously Optimistic

Bjarni Benediktsson icelandic politics

Despite the consumer price index increasing by 0.59% month-on-month, the annual inflation rate has decreased to 9.8% (down from 10.2% in February). The Finance Minister is hopeful that inflation has peaked. An economist with Landsbanki bank has stated that inflationary pressures remain high.

Inflation dips below 10%

Yesterday, the Central Bank published new figures on inflation on its website. According to the data, the annual inflation rate currently sits at 9.8%, down from 10.2% in February. This decline in inflation – which is commonly measured as the 12-month change in the consumer price index (CPI) – comes despite the CPI rising by 0.59% month-on-month in March. The increase in the CPI is to be explained by a 0.7% increase in food and beverage prices, a 4.3% increase in clothing and footwear, and a 0.8% increase in housing costs.

In an interview with RÚV, Una Jónsdóttir, Chief Economist with the Landsbanki bank, stated that the price reduction of furniture, household appliances, and similar products – which fell by 1.7%. – was the main reason why the annual inflation rate was subsiding.

“If, basically, the price of all volatile items used to calculate inflation are removed from the equation, then inflation actually increased month-on-month. So although it’s certainly positive to see inflation abate a little, it, nonetheless, remains very high. And the underlying pressures are still considerable.”

Una observed that it was hard to say whether this marked the beginning of a decline in inflation: “The new figures certainly support that, but how confident we are in it remains to be seen. The fact that we see underlying inflation increasing is not necessarily a positive sign.”

There are, however, several indications that inflationary pressures are slowly easing. Housing prices, for example, no longer create as much inflationary pressure, given that real-estate prices outside the capital area have fallen. The price of clothes and shoes, however, is now 2% higher than it was before these items went on sale. As noted by RÚV, there are many factors responsible for the current price increases: demand pressure, external price increases, and wage increases. The exchange rate has also not strengthened as expected.

Una concluded by saying that it was unlikely that the Central Bank’s latest rate hike had begun to have an effect: “We saw the inflation pressure decrease on the bond market. When the expectation is, going forward, that inflation will decline, it often serves as a kind of self-fulfilling prophecy.”

Finance Minister cautiously optimistic

Following a cabinet meeting yesterday, Finance Minister Bjarni Benediktsson was asked about the slight decline in the annual inflation rate.

“I think it’s best to hold back with the big statements,” Bjarni told Vísir. “But, on its own, this is a positive development, and hopefully, it’s an indication that inflation has peaked. We have seen large interest rate increases from the Central Bank, and the government finances this year are supporting lower inflation – we see it in a very large change in the performance of the treasury.”

Bjarni noted that the government would continue to take measures that would contribute to lowering the costs of goods and services – which was no small task: “When people have lost control of inflation expectations going into the future, to rebuild the belief that we can tackle this task and be successful – that’s what we’re focused on doing.”

The government’s new fiscal policy for the years 2023-2027 is to be presented today. Bjarni observed that the new policy would differ in its emphasis from the last. The new policy would take into account changes in external conditions.

“There are certain priorities from the government that need to take precedence, and by that, I mean inflation, in particular. So I think that the new fiscal policy will be an important contribution to this situation, and I am happy that, all in all, we can have a lot of faith in the future; it can be bright going forward in Iceland.”