Norway PM: After attacks, make country more open

Published 3:54 pm Wednesday, July 27, 2011

OSLO, Norway (AP) — Five days after an attacker incensed by Norway’s culture of tolerance horrified the world, Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg on Wednesday issued a quiet call of defiance to his countrymen: Make Norway even more open and accepting.

“The Norwegian response to violence is more democracy, more openness and greater political participation,” Stoltenberg insisted at a news conference.

His promise in the face of twin attacks that killed 76 people signaled a contrast to the U.S. response after the 9/11 attacks, when Washington gave more leeway to perform wiretaps and to search records.

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It reflects the difference between the two countries’ approaches to terrorism: The U.S. has been frustrated by what it considers Scandinavia’s lack of aggressive investigation and arrests.

“I think what we have seen is that there is going to be one Norway before and one Norway after July 22,” the day an anti-immigration extremist bombed Oslo’s government quarter and slaughtered dozens at the left-leaning Labor Party’s youth camp, Stoltenberg said.

“But I hope and also believe that the Norway we will see after will be more open, a more tolerant society than what we had before.”

Stoltenberg strongly defended the right to speak freely — even if it includes extremist views such as those held by Anders Behring Breivik, the 32-year-old Norwegian who has confessed to the attacks and claimed they were necessary to fight what he called Muslim colonization and multiculturalism.

“We have to be very clear to distinguish between extreme views, opinions — that’s completely legal, legitimate to have. What is not legitimate is to try to implement those extreme views by using violence,” he said in English.

Since the attacks, Stoltenberg and Norwegian family members have underlined the country’s openness by making public appearances with little visible security guarding them.

The prime minister, perhaps mindful of many Norwegians’ reserved ways, urged the country to fully grieve: “I have cried, and I have told many people that they should not hesitate to cry.”

The national sense of heartbreak is being renewed daily as police slowly release names of the dead; the identities of only 17 of the 68 known to have been killed have been officially confirmed.

One those named Wednesday was the youngest-known victim so far — camper Sharidyn Svebakk-Boehn, who turned 14 five days before the rampage.

An employee of Stoltenberg’s office, 51-year-old Anne Lise Holter, was confirmed Wednesday as one of the eight dead in the bomb blast. A stepbrother of Crown Princess Mette-Matrit, police officer Trond Berntsen, was confirmed as one of those killed on the island, where the 51-year-old was providing security.

Stoltenberg said an independent commission will be formed to investigate the attacks and determine what lessons can be learned from the response. The commission also is to help survivors and relatives cope with the aftermath. Parliament said it is willing to help pay for funerals, and there will be a monument built to commemorate the victims.

Police earlier gave an eerie account of the end of the siege, where the man who had committed slaughter for more than an hour obediently gave up the moment police approached him, holding his hands over his head.

“It was a completely normal arrest,” said officer Haavard Gaasbakk.

Earlier, the leader of Norway’s Delta Force anti-terror police unit defended the special operations team, saying the breakdown of a boat didn’t cause a significant delay in efforts to reach the island.

Police have come under close scrutiny over how long it took them to reach the island after first reports of shots being fired at the island youth camp Friday. Although the island is only about 25 miles (40 kilometers) from the Norwegian capital, police needed 90 minutes to get to the scene.

Police were already grappling with the wide damage inflicted in the downtown government quarter. When word of the shooting came, police drove rather than take a helicopter because the crew of the sole chopper available to them was on vacation. Then the first boat they tried to take to the lake island broke down. The team jumped into other boats and got to Utoya without much delay, police officials said.

Norwegian media are suggesting that police knew Breivik’s identity even before they reached the island, tracing him through a rental car company from which he rented the panel van in which the bomb was planted.

Dag Andre Johansen, Scandinavian CEO of Avis car rental company, told the AP that Breivik had rented two vehicles, including a Volkswagen Crafter van. He said police contacted the company after the bombing and got Breivik’s identity confirmed. But he declined to say whether that contact came before Breivik was arrested on the island.

Many in Oslo felt a new twinge of worry on Wednesday morning when parts of the capital’s rail and bus complex was evacuated because of a suspicious abandoned suitcase. Police later said no explosives were found and that the evacuation order had been lifted. The Norwegian news agency NTB said a bus driver turned in the alarm after seeing a passenger leave the suitcase and walk into the station at a fast clip.