King Harald and Queen Sonja of Norway paid tributes for victims of the country’s recent bomb attack and shooting spree at remembrance ceremonies Sunday. The king and queen joined survivors and their families, Norwegian Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg, Princesses Martha Louise and Ari Behn, and leaders from across Norway’s political spectrum, at a memorial service at Oslo Domkirke, the Norwegian capital’s historic cathedral. “Today we allow ourselves to honour and remember the dead”, Stoltenberg said at the service. “Each and every one that is taken away from us is a tragedy. And altogether, this is a national tragedy”, he added. The king and queen wept openly during the service and prayed for the victims and their families. Outside, thousands of ordinary citizens showed their grief and sympathy by lighting candles, and by placing flowers, soft toys, and notes of remembrance in the cathedral yard.
Their tributes followed a massive bomb blast Friday in downtown Oslo, which killed seven and damaged key government buildings. Hours later, a lone gunman dressed in police uniform shot dead 85 persons, mostly teenagers, attending a summer camp for the youth wing of Norway’ ruling Labour Party on tiny Utøya Island, on an inland lake some 40 kilometres west of Oslo. Police arrested the gunman, Anders Bering Breivik, 32, when they arrived on the island. He’s an ethnic Norwegian with extreme right-wing and conservative Christian beliefs, and admitted responsibility for both attacks.
“We’re still in shock and it’s going to take a long time to get over this”, said Oslo resident Christina Ørwen, who joined the huge crowds gathered outside the cathedral. She added that such attacks aren’t expected in Nordic countries, which are proud of their safe and open societies. However, even though people are in shock over this tragedy, they’re coming to terms with it. “I think we all stand together in this situation”, said Marit Nicolaysen, another attendee. “We don’t know what this’ll mean for our society, but are hoping for the best”.
Meanwhile, Norway’s Crown Prince Haakon and Crown Princess Mette-Marit took part Sunday in a memorial service for relatives of victims and survivors at Norderhov Church in Ringerike, in Buskerud County, some 90 kilometres northwest of Oslo. They later met injured victims of the attacks at the hospital there. The king and the queen themselves visited the wounded at Ullevål hospital, in Oslo, on Sunday afternoon, before making a trip with Stoltenberg to the capital’s bomb-hit government quarter. This was the royal couple’s first visit to the area since Friday’s blast, which blew windows off buildings and strewed shattered glass on the streets surrounding the bomb site.
Stoltenberg’s own office was badly damaged in the explosion. Following the royal couple’s departure, he told journalists at the site that the buildings in the area are still “unsafe” and that it would take “a long time” before they could be used again. He stressed that the attacks would not change Norway’s policy of being an open society. “This violence isn’t going to reduce our ability to be an open, democratic society”, he said.”Our answer to the violence isn’t less openness, it’s more openness… not less democracy, but more democracy”, he explained.
While the victims are remembered, the survivors of these devastating events aren’t forgotten. Earlier, on Saturday, the king, queen, and Crown Prince Haakon had a heartfelt meeting with survivors of the shooting, and their families, at a centre set up for them at the Sundvolden Hotel, near Utøya Island. They also met with police and emergency workers involved in the rescue and relief operations in the aftermath of the attack.
Here’s a longer Xinhua report on the Norwegian situation that you might find interesting:
24 July 2011