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Sweden: Foreign Minister Dies After Stabbing

Swedish Foreign Minister Anna Lindh has died following a stabbing incident in Stockholm. Doctors operated on her for more than nine hours but could not save her. The motive for the stabbing is not known, and the lone attacker escaped. The crime raises the specter of an earlier assassination, that of Swedish Prime Minister Olof Palme in 1986. Do the acts of violence mean that the tradition of political openness in the Nordic nations is under threat?

Prague, 11 September 2003 (RFE/RL) -- Swedish Foreign Minister Anna Lindh died today after suffering multiple stab wounds in an attack while shopping in central Stockholm yesterday.

A lone man approached Lindh in a department store, stabbing her repeatedly in the chest, stomach, and arms before escaping.

Doctors operated on her for many hours, but could not save her life.

Police have the knife, as well as the suspect's army jacket and cap, but the motive for the savage attack is still a complete mystery.

The incident comes just ahead of the 14 September national referendum in Sweden on adoption of the European Union's single currency, the euro. Lindh was one of the leading advocates in favor of adopting the single currency, although opinion polls indicate that the Swedish public is likely to reject it.

It is not known if the euro and referendum campaign has any bearing on the crime. All sides have ended their campaigning as a mark of respect for Lindh.

Prime Minister Goran Persson expressed the shock and grief of the nation in comments in Stockholm: "I have received with sorrow information that Sweden's foreign minister, Anna Lindh, died this morning at 5:29 a.m. of her wounds. Our thoughts are with Anna's family, husband, children, and other close people. It feels unreal, difficult to understand."

Persson has ordered heightened security around King Carl Gustaf, and top politicians.

Tributes for the popular foreign minister have been pouring in from overseas. Typical is the comment in London of British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw: "Anna was a good friend of mine. I was with her for two days at a meeting of European foreign ministers on Friday and Saturday of last weekend. She was someone who was full of life, who represented everything that is wonderful about Sweden and about Europe."

Among other tributes was one from the president of the European Union's executive Commission, Romano Prodi in Brussels: "The tragic news of Anna's death has deeply saddened and pained me personally, and all the members of the European Commission. Already the news of the blind and senseless assault against her has left me deeply disturbed."

In the long-held tradition of Nordic openness, Anna Lindh was shopping without a bodyguard or any security precautions when she was attacked. The political correspondent of the Swedish TT News Agency, Mats Ericsson, explains the custom.

"You have been able to meet ministers in the street in Stockholm without anybody [interfering] and you have been able to come up and talk to them if you want to. It has been quite relaxed. Likely, that will definitely change now," Ericsson says.

The relaxed security policy largely persisted despite an earlier political murder, the shooting in 1986 of Prime Minister Olof Palme, outside a cinema just a few blocks away from where Lindh was killed.

That mysterious crime has never been solved, and as TT's Ericsson points out, there are some alarming parallels to the two assassinations.

"There are absolutely some resemblances, they occurred on the open street in Stockholm, and both Palme and Lindh were quite colorful people -- they had charisma, they were outspoken, and so on. So there were definitely similarities, yes," Ericsson says,

Both Palme and Lindh were Social Democrats.

Lindh, along with Prime Minister Persson, was the main figure in the present pro-euro campaign, and has received much publicity.

"She has been very well exposed for the past few weeks. I mean nobody on the [anti-euro] 'no' campaign would ever, ever, try to think of doing something like this. Maybe it is just that she has been more exposed [than usual]," Ericsson says.

It's not clear whether the death of Lindh will have any impact on the coming euro referendum. In such cases the cause of the dead person can sometimes gain popularity in a wave of sympathy -- as happened in the Netherlands last year when rightist politician Pim Fortuyn was shot, and his List party did well in subsequent elections.

Lindh was married with two children. Her death at the age of 46 casts a sinister shadow over Sweden. Together with the unsolved mystery of the Palme murder, it suggests that a golden era of democratic openness has abruptly come to an end. Sweden's traditional habit of making those who govern accessible to the governed may now be impossible, a victim of the modern sickness of violence.