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Geopolitics

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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