World pays tribute to a minister adored by her people

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What was Stina Eklund, aged 62, to do with her red rose and poem? "They are there for Anna,'' she told the policeman at the roadblock.

Ms Eklund's plan had been to lay the rose at Stockholm City Hall, where 1,300 politicians from all over the world gathered yesterday to pay tribute to Anna Lindh, the murdered Swedish Foreign Minister.

The friendly but firm policeman explained that there would be no access for Ms Eklund or any other ordinary Swede. Convoys of shiny cars, some with darkened windows, whistled by. The open society had closed for a few hours.

But as though awave of emotion had swept through the city, all tracks, for Ms Eklund and other ordinary Swedes, led to NK, the department store where Lindh was fatally stabbed on 10 September.

Two white awnings had been raised in the drizzle outside the main entrance to the store. One protected two condolence books and from beneath it an orderly queue snaked into the street. The second covered the thousands of flowers, bouquets and tributes left here in the past 10 days. NK staff had laid them in a chest-high circle: a giant wreath from the people.

In the television sales department, a dozen people, including Ms Eklund, gathered around a giant screen to watch the live transmission from the City Hall. Lindh's husband, Bo Holmberg, and her sons David, 12, and Filip, 10, had asked not to be shown on television. But packing the huge hall - best known for being the venue of the annual Nobel ceremony - we could see King Carl Gustaf, Queen Silvia, socialist leaders and the foreign ministers of most European countries including Britain's current and former incumbents, Jack Straw and Robin Cook.

Colin Powell, the US Secretary of State who once said that there were three good things about Sweden - Abba, Volvo and Anna - was prevented from paying tribute to the Swedish whirlwind by Hurricane, Isabel. As we listened, first to Goran Persson, the Prime Minister, then to the EU commissioner Chris Patten and George Papandreou, the Greek Foreign Minister, Ms Eklund said she was proud to learn of the international dimension to the late foreign minister.

"I knew her for her grassroots campaigning, her speeches in town squares,'' said Ms Eklund. "To think that she behaved in the same way in Brussels is very comforting.'' Mr Patten had clearly been impressed by Ms Lindh's lack of pomposity. Standing by a giant photograph, in which she appears to be bursting into laughter, he recalled that she was "invariably good fun'' and that she turned politics into an honourable profession. He recalled her turning up at meetings with "that knapsack full of official documents''.

From the stone staircase of the Blue Hall - which was decorated with candles, delphiniums and globes made with red rosebuds - Mr Patten brought an affectionate, joyful contribution to a ceremony steeped in the nation's sorrow. He said: "She took in her stride the pomposity of chancelleries but never forgot people. To her, no one was ordinary so everyone was able to be extraordinary.''

Ms Lindh was only 46 when she was stabbed last week. She had been tipped to become Sweden's next prime minister. Mr Patten said: "We know that life mimics art. We do not judge a poem, a symphony by its lengths. The most beautiful symphonies are sometimes those which are unfinished.'' Ms Eklund felt she was being given a rare insight into the human side of politics. "It sounds like all these ministers are friends,'' she said.

Mr Papandreou, who in his youth was a refugee in Sweden and delivered his speech in Swedish, made the impression complete. "Anna,'' he said, "we miss your laugh. You dared to be yourself. We politicians are not good at showing our feelings.

"This time I haven't brought a bottle of your favourite olive oil in my bag. I have brought an olive branch because it represents you so well,'' said Mr Papandreou, who put the twig at the base of her photograph.

Ms Eklund was still clutching her red rose and her poem for Anna. At the exit of the store she jotted down the account number of the just-created Anna Lindh Memorial Fund. And she joined the queue, the very silent and orderly queue for the condolence books.