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Unsolved Palme murder revisits Swedes

Stockholm, Sept. 11 (Reuters): The nationwide search by Swedish police today for the unidentified man who killed foreign minister Anna Lindh brought back painful memories of an unsolved assassination 17 years ago.

For many Swedes the news that the popular minister had died, a day after being stabbed in a Stockholm department store, was a harrowing reminder of the 1986 assassination of Prime Minister Olof Palme. His killer has not been caught.

Police hunting Lindh’s killer said they had no idea of his motives or his identity, except that he was “Swedish looking.”

“As soon as I heard this I thought of Olof Palme. I remember when it happed to Palme, thinking that from now on... things would be different,” said Left Party leader Ulla Hoffmann.

Palme, who refused to be followed by bodyguards, was shot dead at close range as he walked home from the cinema with his wife on a February night 17 years ago. His death was a paralysing shock to a peaceful nation that prided itself on its low crime rates, but his assassination was seen as an aberration and even today only the prime minister has bodyguards.

Lindh was shopping at the NK department store without any security, only four days before a heated campaign on whether Sweden should join the euro was due to end with a referendum. She was one of the most ardent supporters of the currency. Lindh was one of the Social Democratic Party’s most outspoken voices on international issues since Palme, and recently criticised both the US-led war on Iraq and Italy’s Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi.

“For the Swedish people it brings back all the old horrible memories of Olof Palme,” said Green Party leader Peter Eriksson. Malin, a 35-year-old shopkeeper, echoed his thoughts as she placed a bouquet of roses outside the main government building: “No matter where you stand politically, she was an admirable person and my first thought when this happened was: ‘Not again!’”

The killing also reminds Swedes that although hundreds of investigators worked on the Palme case for nearly two decades, his assassin is still at large. The case has been a humiliation for the Swedish police force and top investigators have been criticised harshly.

The police never found the murder weapon, thought to be a 0.357-calibre Magnum revolver based on the armour-piercing bullet which tore through Palme. The case remains open and every now and then the police get new tips from the public.

Palme was a vocal supporter of global disarmament and raised Sweden’s foreign policy profile considerably as a harsh critic of the US’ role in Vietnam.

, racial segregation in South Africa and military regimes in many foreign countries.

This earned him many admirers, but also enemies, and prompted speculation about foreign plots to kill him.

Petty criminal Christer Petterson was charged with Palme's murder, and Palme's wife Lisbet identified him as the gunman, but he was acquitted by a court which said she might have been mistaken.

Conspiracy theories have blamed Palme's killing on Kurdish rebel groups, Israel's secret service Mossad, South Africa's apartheid government, the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency, the Soviet Union, and an international syndicate of arms traders.

On the home front, murder conspiracy theories range from business leaders angered by Palme's leftist economic policies, to ultra-right white supremacist groups, disgruntled police, a jealous husband and the Freemasons. (Additional reporting by Patrick McLoughlin and Karin Lundback)

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