Euro vote too close to call with Sweden in mourning

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The Independent Online

Tens of thousands of Swedes, many clutching red roses, poured into the centre of Stockholm yesterday to pay their respects to the murdered Foreign Minister, Anna Lindh.

While mourning a universally loved leader, Sweden is pressing ahead with tomorrow's referendum on the euro, where certain defeat has been turned into a possible victory in the aftermath of Ms Lindh's death on Thursday.

With Ms Lindh now seen as a martyr to the cause of euro membership, her lasting legacy could be to persuade a reluctant nation to join. Some have suggested that a wave of sympathy could be enough to wipe out the comfortable poll lead enjoyed by the "no" campaign before her murder.

One polling institute, Skop, found that in the hours after Ms Lindh's death the "yes" and "no" sides were even, although another, Sifo, said the "no" camp held a 12-point lead.

The Prime Minister, Goran Persson, led tributes in Sergels Square, praising those who had come to take a stand against violence. "Anna was an angel," he said, "We must not turn our backs when democratic rights are violated. To take responsibility is a way to honour Anna Lindh." Old and young turned out, some with banners in the red colours of Ms Lindh's Social Democratic party, others with red roses, the symbol of the centre-left, as sombre music boomed out through the city centre.

Her death has led to deep soul-searching over Sweden's open way of conducting politics. Ms Lindh had no police protection when she was attacked on the first floor of a fashionable Stockholm department store on Wednesday. Security has already been stepped up around senior politicians.

Questions are also being asked about the quality of the police investigation. The assailant escaped, running from the shop, covered in his victim's blood.

The authorities released two men who had been arrested in connection with the killing. A number of people were taken in for questioning after checks on homeless shelters.

As well as the 15 witnesses already identified, the police are hunting for a woman in her fifties who raised the alarm and is thought to have caught a clear view of the attacker, said to be a stocky, acne-scarred man.

Police say video surveillance was not operating on the floor of the NK department store in which Ms Lindh was attacked, although other security cameras may have captured the image of the assailant as he fled the scene.

The Stockholm police chief, Leif Jennekvist, said: "There's a person on it that could match the descriptions that we have from the scene of the crime."

The authorities have also been criticised for failing to stop underground trains and seal Sweden's border, because they were unsure of the direction in which the attacker fled.

Ms Lindh's recent correspondence and e-mails are being examined in detail by detectives. She had received threats at the Foreign Ministry in the weeks before her killing.

One of the letters,which were not shown to her or to the police, claimed Ms Lindh was "power hungry" and a stooge of business, after she wrote a joint article with the chief executive of the Swedish firm Ericsson backing euro entry.

Police believe the attacker already has a record of violence. Mr Jennekvist told the Swedish daily newspaper Dagens Nyheter that whoever was responsible had "done this kind of thing before. You don't begin your criminal career with this kind of crime," he said.

Away from Stockholm's central square, all sections of society continued grieving yesterday. Ms Lindh was remembered in church memorial services, and the imam of Stockholm's mosque, Hedi Arfaoui, dedicated its Friday prayer service to her.

But most striking of all was the way in which the Swedish public continued to pay its tributes to the country's most popular politician, someone who was widely expected to be the nation's next prime minister.

Throughout Stockholm, impromptu memorials of roses were assembled next to euro campaign billboards bearing Ms Lindh's picture.

In front of the NK store hundreds of candles were lit overnight and a mound of lilies and roses stood more than three feet high, and other floral tributes were laid outside the Swedish Parliament and the Foreign Ministry.

Well-wishers expressed sorrow mingled with disbelief. Linus Hoiden, a student who opposes Swedish entry to the euro, said: "Swedish people loved her. Her personality was perfect for her job. It is hard to understand how, in our small, safe, democratic country, things like this can happen."