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Sweden Votes on Euro Currency Referendum

September 14, 2003

STOCKHOLM, Sweden (AP) _ After months of debate over whether to adopt the European Union’s common currency, Swedes voted Sunday in a somber referendum overshadowed by the murder of Foreign Minister Anna Lindh.

The attack on Lindh, which police said did not appear politically motivated, came Wednesday in the final stages of campaigning, as the foreign minister and other euro supporters stepped up efforts to convince voters Sweden should join the currency now used by 12 European countries.

Analysts contended that Lindh’s fatal stabbing could generate a wave of sympathy votes that could give euro supporters a narrow victory.

``I would say that three days ago the ‘yes’ side had all but given up. The ‘no’ side was leading by about 10 percentage points,″ said Mats Carlbom, a political analyst.

``Anna Lindh was a key figure. She was the one on the yes side who was supposed to swing Social Democratic voters and women voters over to their side _ voters who were undecided.

``Now maybe that’s just what she will do _ but after her death.″

Lena Axelsen, 55, said she voted for the euro for economic, not emotional reasons.

``We do not have the economic strength like Norway does to be able to care about nothing,″ Axelsen said.

More than 7 million Swedes were eligible to vote in the referendum, and election officials said the number of people who voted by mail likely would reach 1 million.

Polls released Saturday were split, with one showing euro supporters ahead by 6 percentage points, and another with the ``no″ side leading.

Gallup found 43 percent of those polled favored adopting the euro, while 42 percent opposed it and 15 percent were undecided. Supporters gained 8 percentage points from a Gallup poll conducted before Lindh’s stabbing, while the ``no″ camp lost 8 percentage points.

In a survey by the Temo polling agency, euro opponents were ahead 46 percent to 40 percent, while 14 percent were undecided.

Both surveys polled 1,000 people and had a 3 percent margin of error.

``After what has happened, no side, no party can rejoice,″ Alf Svensson, leader of the Christian Democratic Party and a euro supporter told The Associated Press on Saturday as he manned a pro-euro information booth in the capital, Stockholm.

Police continued searching for Lindh’s killer Sunday. Authorities received thousands of tips after releasing pictures of a possible suspect over the weekend.

``Election day is usually a festival day and it feels terrible that a killer can change this,″ Liberal Party leader Lars Leijonbord told the Swedish news agency TT.

Many Swedes 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.

A Swedish rejection of the euro 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 stayed out of the euro.

Denmark rejected the euro in a 2000 referendum. Britain has not decided whether to let voters decide the issue.

Euro supporters, led in Sweden by Prime Minister Goeran Persson, a Social Democrat, say a ``no″ vote would leave the Scandinavian country of 9 million without a voice when important economic decisions are taken in the 15-member EU.

They predict adopting the euro would spur Sweden’s economy by facilitating trade with the euro-zone. They also warn that a small currency like Sweden’s krona is more vulnerable to currency speculation than the euro, the world’s second-largest currency behind the dollar.

``I think it’s an advantage to have every member country participate in the monetary union,″ Persson said after a campaign rally earlier in the week. ``But mainly it’s in our interest. If we end up outside it hurts us more, of course, than it hurts the EU.″

Opponents say the euro is a risky project and worry that handing over monetary policy to the Frankfurt, Germany-based European Central Bank will hurt Sweden’s economy.

``I believe that we are too small a country to have any influence among the big ones,″ said Birgit Soederlund, a 77-year-old retiree. ``We’ll be sitting in the laps of the big men.″

The ``yes″ campaign was more visible on the streets, buying up billboards on buses, phone booths and the subways, helped in part by a war chest funded by big business and support from most political parties and editorial pages. Despite the supplies, euro proponents struggled to convince voters how they would benefit from the euro.

``A characteristic of the Swedish mentality is that we have it quite well and that they don’t have much to offer us out in Europe or the world,″ polling analyst Arne Modig said.

Opponents gained strength from recent economic data showing higher growth and lower unemployment in Sweden than the euro-zone average. They poked fun at the high unemployment rates in some euro zone countries, compared with Sweden’s relatively stable 5 percent.

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Associated Press reporters Tommy Grandell and Karl Ritter contributed to this report.

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