STOCKHOLM — Swedish police today arrested three men suspected of involvement in Prime Minister Olof Palme's assassination but later released them for lack of evidence, dashing hopes of a breakthrough in a frustrating 11-month-old investigation.
None of the men was identified by name or nationality, but they were believed to be Kurds. A police statement said the three were picked up in a sweep of several people linked to the Kurdish Workers Party, a Marxist group.
Despite release of the men, Police Chief Hans Holmer indicated publicly for the first time that he believes a link exists between the Kurdish Workers Party and Palme's killing.
Palme, 59, a socialist and champion of disarmament and Third World causes, was shot at point-blank range with a .357-caliber Magnum last Feb. 28. He and his wife had just left a movie theater and were walking down a main street in central Stockholm.
Holmer has said for months that police were close to solving the Palme case. He acknowledged today that his main suspicions center on the Kurdish Workers Party and said "it is a part of the main lead we have been working on today."
Party spokesmen repeatedly have denied any involvement.
The Kurdish Workers Party had been declared a terrorist organization in 1984, but its members were allowed to remain in the country.
Several West European countries have sizable communities of Kurds, most of them refugees from war or repression in their home region, which includes parts of Iraq, Iran and eastern Turkey.
The government keeps no official records on the number of Kurds in Sweden, listing them instead by country of origin. However, the Swedish Communist Party last year estimated that there were 7,000 to 8,000 Kurds in Sweden, most of them from Turkey.
The Kurdish Workers Party was founded in Turkey in the 1970s and later expanded its organization to Western Europe. It has been torn by internal strife and has been accused of killing defectors and detractors.