Euro poll gap closes after Lindh murder

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The Independent Online

Sweden's pro-euro campaigners have received a dramatic boost on the eve of the referendum as two opinion polls put their campaign fractionally ahead of the "no" group after the murder of the country's foreign minister, Anna Lindh.

With just hours to go before the nation decides whether to join the single currency, the "yes" side recorded its first opinion poll lead for five months, making the referendum outcome impossible to predict.

Opponents of the euro had notched up double-digit poll leads for months and were expected to cruise to victory. But the brutal stabbing of Ms Lindh, who was the most forceful advocate of the pro-euro cause, has overshadowed the earlier campaign.

A Gallup poll showed euro supporters with a one per cent lead, while a smaller survey by Ruab gave them a 0.2 per cent advantage.

Another poll by Temo found opponents ahead by 6 percentage points. Nevertheless, all surveys now show that the momentum is with the "yes" side, suggesting that a wave of sympathy could be enough to deliver an unexpected victory to the supporters of the European single currency.

Sweden's pro-euro finance minister, Bosse Ringholm, said that "opinion has changed in the last days", adding: "We don't know what is happening after the killing, but I hope we will have a higher degree of participation and a yes majority on Sunday."

The country has been bitterly divided about euro entry and the Social Democratic Party of the Prime Minister, Goran Persson, who called the referendum, is split.

The more sceptical Social Democrats, and the many who have not made up their minds, are now thought more likely to come around at the 11th hour because of Ms Lindh's death. But more than 1.4 million people have already voted by post, something that could lessen the impact of the murder on the outcome.

The credibility of the result will be in question whichever way it goes. If the "yes" side do win out today, their victory could be tarnished if it is put down to the sympathy factor. On the other hand, if the "no" side clinches the referendum, their opponents may blame the result on the fact that campaigning was suspended after Ms Lindh's death.

Leaders of both sides have said there will be few celebrations when results come through tonight. "After what has happened, no side, no party can rejoice," said pro-euro supporter Alf Svensson, leader of the Christian Democratic Party.

Meanwhile Swedish tabloids published pictures from video surveillance of a man being sought by detectives hunting Ms Lindh's murderer. The grainy image shows a man wearing a cap and a sweatshirt that has a Nike logo.

His identity has not been established although several names are being checked. Leif Jennekvist, a police spokesman, said earlier official reports that the man left behind a camouflage jacket were incorrect.

The police also said that they have positively identified the knife used in the attack, which is similar to one stolen from a nearby store. The discarded packaging of that weapon is now being analysed for prints.

Police took footage from surveillance cameras at the department store where Ms Lindh was stabbed in her chest, stomach and arms, although cameras did not capture the attack itself.

Newspapers yesterday reported that the police have yet to ask other shops in the area for video footage.

The criticism revives memories of Sweden's last assassination, that of the Prime Minister Olof Palme in 1986. That crime remains unsolved.