Norway: Tears, Roses And A Sinking Feeling Things Will Never Be The Same

Norwegians are struggling to come to terms with Friday’s horrific massacre. A memorial service Sunday in the Oslo Cathedral drew tens of thousands of mourners. On the streets of the capital, passersby question the possible long-term effects of the tragedy

Mourners gathered in front of the Cathedral in Oslo, Norway
Mourners gathered in front of the Cathedral in Oslo, Norway
Luc Mathieu

OSLO -- In Oslo, some people came with big electronic lighters. Others came just with matches. Squatted on the wet pavement, they relight the candles that were extinguished by last night's rain. A young woman has red eyes. An old man folds his arms. He is sobbing slowly. They all look at the thousands of bunches of white and red roses that have been laid in front the Oslo Cathedral since Friday night. Among the flowers is a heart-shaped note that reads "Never forget, never forgive."

People began arriving for Sunday's memorial proceedings at about 10 a.m., slowly filling the plaza in front of the Cathedral. They line up silently all along the pavement. Official vehicles drop off Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg, King Haral V and his wife Sonja. The families of the victims enter the cathedral in small groups. People are calling this the ceremony of "sorrow and hope." During his televised address, Jens Stoltenberg struggles to hold back the tears. In the crowd, several people burst out crying.

Two days after the attacks that killed 93 people, Norway is still very much in shock over Friday's horrific events. People keep repeating the same words: "incredulity," "incomprehension," "unthinkable."

They all remember where they were and what they were doing when they heard that a bomb attack occurred in central Oslo, where buildings connected to Norway's governing Labor Party were targeted. Many people thought it was a gas leak or a metro accident. Others were sure it was a hoax.

"I got home and was about to take a nap before heading out for my night shift when I read on the Internet there was an explosion. I didn't believe it. It took me one hour to realize it was a bomb attack and not a false rumor," says Frank, who works in a hotel in central Oslo.

For the first few hours, people from Oslo thought they had been targeted by Al Qaida. "We had never been attacked before. I was sure it was committed by a foreign terrorist group. I started having doubts about it when I heard about the shooting on the island. I thought it was weird to think that terrorists would go there to kill children," says Jan Brygfjell, a 60-year-old employee from the post office.

Most Norwegians spent Friday night glued to their televisions or on the Internet. They followed live as the death toll from the shooting on the island of Utoya (about 40 kilometers away from Oslo) steadily rose.

"It was crazy. First they announced two casualties. Then it was 10. On Saturday, when I woke up, more than 80 casualties were announced. I felt horrible," says Usman Talveer, a 26 year-old airport employee. "I had never thought there could be so many civilians killed in Norway. I thought I was living in a safe and peaceful country, not in Pakistan."

Normalcy is returning – albeit slowly. People in Oslo are again going out. They visit a restaurant or a café, but the atmosphere is still heavy. In the normally crowded pubs customers barely speak. Instead they stare at the big screens broadcasting the news.

"Tonight, there are only the regulars, those who've been coming here for 20 years. We didn't open the dance floor. This isn't a time to party. We have to respect the victims," says a bouncer at the Scotsman pub in Central Oslo.

A few meters away, the alleyways that lead to the governmental district are blocked and guarded by soldiers carrying assault rifles. Some armored vehicles block the main intersections. Only policemen and journalists can enter the area. All the windows of the building where the prime minister had his office were blown out, as were the windows in several adjacent buildings belonging to the Labor party. Some sidewalks are still obstructed by broken glass and pieces of wood. Some passersby hesitate to get closer to the barriers to take some pictures.

"In normal times, the police officers are not armed. In some districts there's no police station. Our country is free and tolerant. The act of a raving lunatic doesn't have to change our society," says Jan Brygfjell.

Others are less categorical. "We can't feel safe anymore. I assume that the police will be more alert. There will be more surveillance by the police. At least I hope so," says Simon Lindholm, a vacationing soldier.

On Sunday afternoon, police raided an apartment in north-east Oslo. No explosives were found and several people who were arrested were released a few hours later. The investigating officers are still trying to figure out whether Anders Behring Breivik, for now the sole person responsible for the "Norwegian 9/11," as some in Oslo have dubbed the massacre, acted alone as he claims.

Read the original article in French

Photo - johsgrd

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Iran-Saudi Arabia Rivalry May Be Set To Ease, Or Get Much Worse

The Saudis may be awaiting the outcome of Iran's nuclear talks with the West, to see whether Tehran will moderate its regional policies, or lash out like never before.

Military parade in Tehran, Iran, on Oct. 3


LONDON — The Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh said earlier this month that Iranian and Saudi negotiators had so far had four rounds of "continuous" talks, though both sides had agreed to keep them private. The talks are to ease fraught relations between Iran's radical Shia regime and the Saudi kingdom, a key Western ally in the Middle East.

Iran's Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian has said that the talks were going in the right direction, while an Iranian trade official was recently hopeful these might even allow trade opportunities for Iranian businessmen in Saudi Arabia. As the broadcaster France 24 observed separately, it will take more than positive signals to heal a five-year-rift and decades of mutual suspicions.

Agence France-Presse news agency, meanwhile, has cited an unnamed French diplomat as saying that Saudi Arabia wants to end its costly discord with Tehran. The sides may already have agreed to reopen consular offices. For Saudi Arabia, the costs include its war on Iran-backed Houthis rebels fighting an UN-recognized government in next-door Yemen.

The role of the nuclear pact

Bilateral relations were severed in January 2016, after regime militiamen stormed the Saudi embassy in Tehran. Amirabdollahian was then the deputy foreign minister for Arab affairs. In 2019, he told the website Iranian Diplomacy that Saudi Arabia had taken measures vis-a-vis Iran's nuclear pact with the world powers.

It's unlikely Ali Khamenei will tolerate the Saudi kingdom's rising power in the region.

He said "the Saudis' insane conduct toward [the pact] led them to conclude that they must prevent [its implementation] in a peaceful environment ... I think the Saudis are quite deluded, and their delusion consists in thinking that Trump is an opportunity for them to place themselves on the path of conflict with the Islamic Republic while relying on Trump." He meant the administration led by the U.S. President Donald J.Trump, which was hostile to Iran's regime. This, he said, "is not how we view Saudi Arabia. I think Yemen should have been a big lesson for the Saudis."

The minister was effectively admitting the Houthis were the Islamic Republic's tool for getting back at Saudi Arabia.

Yet in the past two years, both sides have taken steps to improve relations, without firm results as yet. Nor is the situation likely to change this time.

Photo of Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei in 2020

Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei in 2020

Riyadh's warming relations with Israel

Iran's former ambassador in Lebanon, Ahmad Dastmalchian, told the ILNA news agency in Tehran that Saudi Arabia is doing Israel's bidding in the region, and has "entrusted its national security, and life and death to Tel Aviv." Riyadh, he said, had been financing a good many "security and political projects in the region," or acting as a "logistical supplier."

The United States, said Dastmalchian, has "in turn tried to provide intelligence and security backing, while Israel has simply followed its own interests in all this."

Furthermore, it seems unlikely Iran's Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei will tolerate, even in this weak period of his leadership, the kingdom's rising power in the region and beyond, and especially its financial clout. He is usually disparaging when he speaks of Riyadh's princely rulers. In 2017, he compared them to "dairy cows," saying, "the idiots think that by giving money and aid, they can attract the goodwill of Islam's enemies."

Iranian regime officials are hopeful of moving toward better diplomatic ties and a reopening of embassies. Yet the balance of power between the sides began to change in Riyadh's favor years ago. For the kingdom's power has shifted from relying mostly on arms, to economic and political clout. The countries might have had peaceful relations before in considerably quieter, and more equitable, conditions than today's acute clash of interests.

For if nuclear talks break down, Iran's regime may become more aggressive.

Beyond this, the Abraham Accord or reconciliation of Arab states and Israel has been possible thanks to the green light that the Saudis gave their regional partners, and it is a considerable political and ideological defeat for the Islamic Republic.

Assuming all Houthis follow Tehran's instructions — and they may not — improved ties may curb attacks on Saudi interests and aid its economy. Tehran will also benefit from no longer having to support them. Unlike Iran's regime, the Saudis are not pressed for cash or resources and could even offer the Houthis a better deal. Presently, they may consider it more convenient to keep the softer approach toward Tehran.

For if nuclear talks with the West break down, Iran's regime may become more aggressive, and as experience has shown, tensions often prompt a renewal of missile or drone attacks on the Saudis, on tankers and on foreign shipping. Riyadh must have a way of keeping the Tehran regime quiet, in a distinctly unquiet time.

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