Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 27 December 2014

Norway remembers massacre victims

People lay down flowers outside the cathedral in Oslo on the first anniversary of the bombing and shooting rampage in Norway (AP)
People lay down flowers outside the cathedral in Oslo on the first anniversary of the bombing and shooting rampage in Norway (AP)
Norwegian PM Jens Stoltenberg speaks during a memorial ceremony for the attacks by Anders Breivik (AP)

People across Norway have commemorated the 77 victims of a bomb and gun massacre which shocked the peaceful nation one year ago - a tragedy that the prime minister said had brought Norwegians together in defence of democracy and tolerance.

Anders Behring Breivik, a 33-year-old far-right fanatic, has admitted to the attacks on July 22 2011 - a bombing of the government district in Oslo, killing eight, and a shooting rampage that left 69 dead at the left-wing Labour Party's youth camp on Utoya island.

In a wreath-laying ceremony at the bomb site, Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg said Breivik had failed in his declared goal of destroying Norway's commitment to being an inclusive, multicultural society.

"The bomb and the gun shots were meant to change Norway," Mr Stoltenberg told a sombre crowd of a few hundred people at the ceremony. "The Norwegian people answered by embracing our values. The perpetrator lost. The people won."

Tarpaulins are still covering the windows of bomb-damaged buildings on the plaza, and large cement road blocks stop all but pedestrian traffic. Mounted police and officers with bomb-sniffing dogs were on the site, but the security was low-key, as if designed to show that Norway was still an open society.

The police investigation showed Breivik set off a fertiliser bomb that tore the facade of the high-rise that housed the government's headquarters and drove toward Utoya unhindered as chaos reigned in the capital.

Arriving on Utoya disguised as a police officer and armed with a handgun and semi-automatic rifle, he unleashed a shooting massacre that sent panicked teenagers fleeing into a chilly lake or hiding behind rocks to save their lives. More than half of the victims were teenagers - the youngest had turned 14 five days earlier.

Survivors and families of victims gathered for a private ceremony on the island. Eskil Pedersen, a survivor of the massacre and the head of the Labour Party's youth chapter, urged the crowd to renew their commitment to a diverse and egalitarian society.

"Today we remember those who were killed. Tomorrow we continue the fight for what they believed in," he said.

In a church service attended by government leaders and the royal family in Oslo's cathedral, vicar Elisabeth Thorsen urged the congregation to also remember the victims of violence in other parts of the world, including Syria and the United States, an apparent reference to the Friday's shooting spree which killed 12 movie-goers in Aurora, Colorado.

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