STOCKHOLM, Sweden – Sweden's popular foreign minister was stabbed repeatedly Wednesday while shopping in an exclusive department store in Stockholm, shocking a nation that has long prided itself on the accessibility of its politicians, who rarely use bodyguards.
Police said they didn't believe the attack was politically motivated, but it stirred memories of the unsolved murder of Prime Minister Olof Palme (search), who was killed while walking home from a downtown movie theater with his wife in 1986.
Foreign Minister Anna Lindh (search) was stabbed in the stomach, chest and arm, and police were searching for a man wearing a camouflage jacket who fled the store.
Doctors early Thursday at the Karolinska Hospital said she was still in surgery that began eight hours earlier.
"The foreign minister's condition, right now, is somewhat improved, but still critical," Dr. Goeran Wallin said, adding she had suffered from severe internal bleeding and injuries to her liver and stomach.
The attack cast a pall over the country's upcoming referendum to decide whether to adopt the euro, and campaigning on the issue was postponed for at least a day. It wasn't known if Sunday's referendum vote would be delayed.
Lindh, 46, who is No. 3 in the government and a leading supporter of the European Union's common currency, often has been touted as a possible successor to Prime Minister Goeran Persson (search). Like most Swedish politicians, she did not have a bodyguard.
Persson said security was being re-examined in the wake of the stabbing, which he called an assault on the Scandinavian country's tradition of openness and the accessibility of its leaders.
"The attack is an attack on our open society and because of this, I am feeling great anger and dismay," he said, adding that security around government buildings had been tightened.
"For some people, this may bring back all the terrible memories of years back when Prime Minister Olof Palme was killed," said Green Party leader Per Eriksson. "This may very well lead to Swedish politicians having to have bodyguards from now on."
Only Persson and Swedish King Carl XVI Gustaf have personal security details, said Lars Danielsson, a senior government aide.
He said the government was reassessing security, but didn't say if ministers would be provided with bodyguards.
"In our system, it's up to the responsible authorities to make the assessments in issues like this," he said. "I don't think there is any inclination on our part to change that policy."
Politicians in Scandinavia are often seen walking along the street or riding subways without police protection. In neighboring Denmark, Foreign Minister Per Stig Moeller can be spotted grocery shopping on Saturdays without police protection.
Scandinavia is relatively immune to political violence, unlike other parts of Europe. Serbian Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic was assassinated in March by allies of Slobodan Milosevic seeking to topple his pro-Western government. In the Netherlands, anti-immigration politician Pim Fortuyn was shot to death by an animal rights activist in May 2002. Fortuyn, a candidate for prime minister and outspoken gay academic had blamed rising crime on Moroccan and Turkish minorities.
Lindh was shopping at the upscale Nordiska Kompaniet department store, blocks away from the parliament building, when she was stabbed just before 4 p.m. Wednesday, shopper Hanna Sundberg told The Associated Press.
Sundberg said she saw a man chase Lindh up an escalator.
"She fell on the floor and the man was stabbing her in the stomach," she said. "When he ran away, he threw the knife away."
Sundberg ran to Lindh and the politician told her: "God, he has stabbed me in the stomach!" Then, Sundberg said she saw blood.
An AP reporter saw Lindh rushed from the building on a stretcher by three paramedics, with police surrounding her. The foreign minister appeared barely conscious, breathing heavily into an oxygen mask as paramedics loaded her into an ambulance.
Lindh has been head of the Foreign Ministry since 1998. She was a member of the Riksdag, or parliament, from 1982-1985. She is married and has two children.