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Key Suspect in Slaying of Palme Released by Swedes

March 20, 1986|United Press International

STOCKHOLM — A suspect in the assassination of Swedish Prime Minister Olof Palme was released Wednesday after a witness to the Feb. 28 slaying failed to identify him as a man spotted near the scene after the killing.

Stockholm Police Chief Hans Holmer also said a second person suspected of illegal possession of weapons in the Palme case has also been released.

It was the first mention by police of a second arrest. Police did not identify the second suspect but said he is a "marginal figure" who is a friend of the first suspect.

The unexpected twist in the investigation left police without a major suspect in the biggest manhunt in Swedish history, launched after Palme was shot and killed as he and his wife walked without bodyguards on a downtown Stockholm street after attending a movie.

Seized at Home

The first suspect, a 32-year-old Swede identified in news reports as Viktor Gunnarsson, was arrested one week ago in his suburban home.

Chief public prosecutor K.G. Svensson had asked a court Monday to charge the man with murder, and an arraignment hearing was set for today. Instead, he left national police headquarters under police escort as Holmer told a news conference that he had been released.

The suspect was freed because police could not prove he had been on the street where Palme was killed, trying to flag down a car for a ride about nine minutes after the shooting, Svensson said in a statement.

Holmer, who heads the investigation, said the man was released "because an important link in the chain of circumstantial evidence has been broken."

Unexpected Results

"We had a confrontation with a witness this afternoon and it did not yield what we had expected," Holmer said.

The suspect's name has not been released by police but he has been identified in media reports as a former member of a right-wing party that waged a 10-year hate campaign against the Socialist prime minister.

Lawyers and friends of Gunnarsson described him as a born-again Christian and anti-communist who hated Palme's Socialist policies. Police said he told friends just weeks before the killing that "Palme is on the death list" and that "blood will flow on the streets of Stockholm."

A Swedish newspaper reported earlier in the week that Gunnarsson had fled to California in 1981 because of his hatred of Palme and fears that Palme would allow the Kremlin to take over his homeland. The newspaper quoted his former wife, who now lives in Los Angeles, as saying that "for him, the United States was the angel and the Soviet Union the devil." The paper, Af

Alleged Role Unclear

The prosecutor had not made it clear whether Gunnarsson was suspected as an accomplice or the actual gunman.

Police said Tuesday that forensic experts at Wiesbaden, West Germany, were examining Gunnarsson's clothing for gunpowder traces. Officials also said witnesses saw Gunnarsson near the scene of the crime. He denied being there but failed to provide an alibi and changed his story repeatedly, they said.

Holmer made it clear that authorities are pursuing the investigation vigorously.

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