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Swedish exit poll predicts ‘No’

Stockholm, Sept. 14 (Reuters): Swedes voted “No” to the euro today, an exit poll showed, despite some last-minute gains for the “Yes” side after the murder of pro-euro foreign minister Anna Lindh.

A poll of at least 7,000 voters by SVT public television broadcast minutes after ballots closed at 1800 GMT gave the “No” side 51.8 per cent versus 46.2 per cent for the “Yes” camp, signalling defeat for Prime Minister Goran Persson. “This is only an exit poll, but I do believe in a ‘No’ victory,” anti-euro Left Party’s secretary Pernilla Zethraeus said.

The centre-left government’s minister in charge of the euro campaign, Gunnar Lund, held out hope of a “considerable” change between the exit poll and the official result, but conceded: “It looks more likely to be a ‘No’, that’s for sure.”

If confirmed by full results expected at 1930 GMT, it would be a setback for the European Union’s most ambitious economic project, already rejected by Danish voters. The EU’s third euro outsider, Britain, has yet to put it to the electorate.

Financial markets had widely priced in a rejection of Sweden joining the euro, which would have happened in 2006 at the earliest. The government rules out another vote before 2013. Sweden’s euro sceptics had led in opinion polls since April, but Lindh’s death on Thursday from wounds inflicted by a lone knifeman had raised chances of an upset ‘Yes’ victory.

The Swedish result contrasted with a resounding ‘Yes’ to EU membership across the Baltic in Estonia’s referendum today.

But celebrations among apparent euro-sceptic victors were likely to be mute in a country still in mourning for Lindh, whose murder brought back bitter memories of the unsolved assassination of Prime Minister Olof Palme in 1986.

Red roses, poems and children’s drawings piled up at the store where Lindh was stabbed on Wednesday. About 50,000 people rallied in Stockholm on Friday against violence in Sweden’s biggest demonstration since the Vietnam war. Lindh, a 46-year-old mother of two, was tipped as a future Prime Minister and was a huge asset to the ‘Yes’ campaign.

“A ‘No’ seems quite clear,” said Torbjorn Thedeen, a statistics expert in charge of SVT’s exit poll. Euro sceptics among Sweden’s seven million voters feared the euro would mean price rises, and surrendering monetary policy to the European Central Bank in Frankfurt would endanger tax income funding the cradle-to-grave welfare system.

Persson, supported by the major political parties and big business, had argued the euro would boost trade, meaning stronger growth and plentiful funding for welfare. But he apparently failed to convince the Nordic country of nine million — whose unemployment is lower and growth higher than the 12-nation euro zone’s average — it had anything to gain from joining the common currency.

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