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Swedish Foreign Minister Lindh Stabbed by Unknown Assailant

By Alan Cowell

The New York Times -- STOCKHOLM

Anna Lindh, the widely respected Swedish foreign minister mentioned often as a potential leader of the nation, died early on Thursday of stab wounds suffered on Wednesday, when an unidentified assailant slashed her repeatedly with a knife in a department store.

Her death left the land dismayed and distressed, stirring painful memories of the 1986 killing of Prime Minister Olof Palme and sharpening the quandary of Scandinavian nations like Sweden, seeking to balance their traditional openness against the newer dictates of security. Lindh was not routinely assigned full-time bodyguards -- a privilege reserved for King Carl Gustav and Prime Minister Goran Persson.

The killing also inspired suggestions that, after the assassinations of Serbia’s prime minister, Zoran Djindjic, last March, and the right-wing politician Pim Fortuyn in the Netherlands in May, 2002, Europe’s political and social strains had produced new threats of violence in an ever more volatile era.

“Europe has lost even more of its innocence,” said Margot Wallstrom, Sweden’s representative at the European Union. The impact reverberated particularly through Scandinavia's political elites, who have long prided themselves on their accessibility to the people.

“This is a wake-up call for us in Norway,” said that country’s prime minister, Kjell Magne Bondevik. “We want contact between politicians and other people, and we may now have to consider if we should do it differently.”

The Finnish prime minister, Matti Vanhanen, said that Scandinavia’s vaunted openness had suffered “a major setback and shock.”

Despite the death of Palme 17 years ago, Swedish and other Scandinavian politicians have clung to the idea that, unlike more threatening urban environments elsewhere in Europe or in the United States, their streets are safe.

The openness that made Lindh vulnerable is part of what Swedes see as the advanced social values that set them apart from other parts of Europe. That openness endured despite the Palme killing, which remains formally unsolved to this day. But it now seems under threat, with the authorities caught between their reluctance to introduce tougher security measures and their desire to preserve the accessibility of politicians.

“There was no threat against Anna Lindh and that’s why she didn't have any bodyguard protection,” Kurt Malmstroem, a senior security police officer, told Swedish radio. “It is, of course, a failure in that this has happened. The future will have to show whether there has been an erroneous judgment.”

There was no indication on Thursday night whether the killing, only days before a referendum on Sunday on whether Sweden should join adopt the euro, had been inspired by Lindh’s fervent support for the single currency.