STOCKHOLM, Sweden – Swedes rejected adopting the European common currency in a Sunday referendum overshadowed by the killing of Foreign Minister Anna Lindh (search), an ardent euro supporter, days earlier.
The vote came as a blow to Europe's single currency and to European integration, and it provided a boost for euro (search) opponents in Britain and Denmark, still using their own currencies.
"We have evidently not been able to firmly establish the European idea among the voters," said Alf Svensson, leader of the Christian Democrats and a euro supporter. "People still seem to believe that we live in a Europe with national borders and national currency, but the reality is something else."
Despite the setback, the second since 2000 in Scandinavia, the European Commission (search) reiterated its faith in the euro and held out hope Sweden would adopt it at a later time.
"We're confident the Swedish government will choose a way forward to keep the euro project alive in Sweden," the Commission said in a statement.
With all votes counted from the Scandinavian country's 5,967 precincts, 56 percent of the more than 5.4 million ballots cast were against the euro, while 42 percent voted in favor of it. Remaining ballots were blank. More than 7 million Swedes were eligible to vote. No minimum voter turnout was required.
The results countered some analysts' predictions that the stabbing death of Lindh would emotionally sway voters to adopt the currency used by 12 of the 15 European Union members. They also ran contrary to opinion polls in the final days.
Prime Minister Goeran Persson said that opinion polls were read too optimistically. "We could have had a referendum at a better time. Europe is in a deep recession."
European Central Bank president Wim Duisenberg said the decision would not change the euro's position or bank policy.
"It will not affect the ongoing co-operation between Sveriges Riksbank [Sweden's central bank] and the European Central Bank," Duisenberg said from Germany.
Wednesday's attack on Lindh, which police said did not appear politically motivated, came during the final stages of campaigning on whether Sweden should join the European Monetary Union.
Lindh was stabbed repeatedly by an unknown assailant as she shopped in an upscale Stockholm department store. She died early Thursday after hours of surgery. Police on Sunday released pictures of a possible suspect, but have made no arrests.
Police were seeking 10 people with criminal records and previous offenses, and there were at least two of particular interest, spokeswoman Stina Wessling told The Associated Press.
The euro setback likely could be blamed on Swedes' reputation for doing things their own way, said Ulrica Messing, Minister for Communications and Regional Policy.
"I think too many Swedes think that it is possible for us to do things by ourselves," she said.
Graham Watson, the leader of the Liberal Democrats in the European parliament, said the vote portended a likely loss of prestige for the Scandinavian country of 9 million and offered a warning to British Prime Minister Tony Blair.
"Continued self-exclusion from the euro will bring a crushing loss of investment and political influence and increased vulnerability to money market turmoil," he said.
Britain's Foreign Office said it respected the Swedish people's decision but that it would not affect Britain's choice, which he said would be determined solely by economic factors.
Prime Minister Tony Blair has said he supports adopting the euro in principle, but only when the economic conditions are right. His government announced in June that it was not yet time to call a referendum because Britain's economy had not converged closely enough with that of the 12-nation euro zone.
Many Swedes 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.
Left party leader Ulla Hoffmann, who opposed adopting the euro, said "democracy comes from below and not from above. I think this will be an important signal to Europe that EU must democratize."
But some said they were swayed by Lindh's death.
Hassim Hafkin, 36, a trash collector in Malmoe, 382 miles southwest of Stockholm, said the tragedy changed his mind.
"I don't really know why I changed it to 'yes,'" he said of his vote. "Maybe I felt sorry."