Sweden mourns on way to polls

On the eve of Sunday's euro vote, the Nordic nation is rocked by foreign minister's murder.

The death of Foreign Minister Anna Lindh Thursday put a somber note on Sweden's referendum on adopting the euro.

The attack Wednesday on Ms. Lindh, which police said did not appear to be politically motivated, came in the last stages of campaigning, as Lindh and other euro proponents tried to persuade voters that Sweden should embrace the common currency used by 12 European countries.

Lindh was the second Swedish politician to be slain in the Nordic country in 17 years. Her murder was a rare act of public violence in a nation that has cultivated a mild-mannered and open society and given citizens easy access to their leaders. Like Prime Minister Olof Palme - who was killed in 1986 while walking home from a movie theater with his wife - Lindh had no bodyguards. Mr. Palme's murder has not been solved.

Prime Minister Goeran Persson said that government leaders had considered delaying the referendum for a month, or even a year, but then decided it should proceed, although campaigning has been halted.

The latest Gallup poll shows that 47 percent of Swedes would reject the euro, while only 35 percent wanted the euro in the Sept. 3-9 survey, down 3 percentage points from a Gallup poll a week earlier. Eighteen percent were undecided.

A Swedish "no" would be a blow to the common currency and European integration and a boost to euro opponents in Britain and Denmark, the other European Union members that have kept their own currencies.

David and Goliath

Many Swedes view the referendum as a battle between David and Goliath - little Sweden against mighty Europe - or even a class struggle as European integration will increase the riches of the rich and well-educated who will benefit from opportunities opened up through European integration.

Opponents have argued that adopting the euro would put their cradle-to-grave welfare state too much under the control of the rest of Europe, with its economic and sometimes political turmoil.

Lindh, who died Thursday after being stabbed Wednesday in a Stockholm department store by an unidentified assailant, was an ardent euro advocate. Urging adoption, she had said that "if Sweden is to remain a country with a good and generous welfare system, it needs more resources. A common currency will bring more trade and lower interest rates."

Asked how the murder might affect the vote, Mr. Persson said: "On the one hand, the 'yes' side could get some sympathy from this, but on the other hand, we are canceling all campaign activities."

Sweden's euro supporters say a "no" vote would leave the country of 9 million without a voice when crucial economic decisions are taken in the 15-member EU. They predict adopting the euro would spur Sweden's economy by easing trade with the euro-zone. They also warn a small currency like the krona is more vulnerable to currency speculation than the euro, the world's second most-traded currency.

But opponents see big risks and worry that handing over monetary policy to the European Central Bank, based in Frankfurt, Germany, could hurt Sweden's economy.

"Swedes are not hostile to Europe," says Sören Wibe, chairman of the Social Democrats against the euro, an economist and member of Parliament. "We simply feel we are doing fine as we are. Why rush? A "no" vote keeps our options open. But if we vote "yes," that is the end of it. If the euro turns out to be a great success in 10 or 20 years, we can look at it again," he says. "But it is more likely that in 20 years people will look back and wonder what on earth happened to allow such a feeble and fundamentally flawed idea to wreak havoc with the European economy."

The Swedes have tended to be skeptical about pan-European plans. Sweden became a member of the EU after a referendum in 1994 that resulted in a very slight margin for EU membership. When Sweden applied for EU membership it was granted the right to postpone its stand on euro participation.

Female euro-skeptics

Among the biggest skeptics on European integration are Swedish women, according to opinion polls. They worry that other Europeans may not share some of the values Swedes hold dear. Sweden is a world leader in gender equality. Women hold 44 percent of parliamentary seats and almost half the cabinet seats. Some 78 percent of women between the ages of 20 and 64 work, as compared with 84 percent of the male population. Parental leave benefits are generous.

"Gender issues are very important," says Catarina Sandberg, a mother of two teenagers. "Equality is fundamental, and I think Sweden is far ahead of most of Europe on such issues. I am worried that if decisions are taken far away, they will be taken by people who don't understand or appreciate our values."

Lindh, one of Sweden's most prominent female leaders, had been suggested as a future prime minister. Choking on his words as he announced her death, Persson said the country's tradition of openness has been forever damaged by the killing. "The attack against her also hurt the society we've built up and which we want to live in," he said.

Police investigator Agneta Blidberg said every resource was being used to track down the assailant, last seen fleeing the store.

Many Swedes who went to bed Wednesday believing Lindh might survive were stunned to learn of her death. Some wept openly on the streets, where posters of Lindh were displayed for the euro referendum.

"I cannot believe it," said Michael Hirmiz, an Iraqi who immigrated to Sweden in 1984 and recalled Palme's murder. "Now it is happening here in Sweden again."

Material from the Associated Press was used in this report.

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