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Twin attacks shatter Norway's sense of security

world Updated: Jul 24, 2011 02:50 IST

AFP
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Norway's sense of itself as a land of peace and tranquility has been shattered after the twin attacks on Friday that killed more than 90 people.

Nowhere was this more clearly illustrated than on the streets of central Oslo on Saturday, where locals and tourists alike took photos of the rare sight of the soldiers posted on Karl Johans Gate, the capital's main avenue.

"You never see soldiers here," said Adrian Hinozosa Halaurd, 24, a local waiter. "How can anyone feel safe after this?"
Norwegians are proud of their country's low crime rate.

It is not uncommon to see government ministers on the tram, cycling through the city centre or simply walking down the street. Olav V, father of the current king, thought nothing of taking the train with his subjects when he wanted to go skiing.

But after the 2003 assassination of Swedish foreign affairs minister Anna Lindh, security surrounding the prime minister was stepped up.

Then came Friday's bomb blast, which swept through government buildings in Oslo city centre killing seven people; and the devastating shooting spree on Utoeya island, just outside the capital, that has claimed at least 85 lives.

"It's a sad day," said Anne Ronning, 49. "We realise we are not as protected as we thought. We can no longer go on thinking we are safe because we aren't.

"It's unrealistic to say that nothing's going to change -- things are obviously going to change now," she said. "It's sad to see the army here in the city, really sad," Samira, her 22-year-old daughter added.

Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg has insisted that Norway must retain its values of openess and transparency, despite the attacks.

"What we are known for is an open society, a safe society, where you can have political debate without being threatened," he said on Friday.

"That's what is under attack today, that is what is being threatened, and we have to act to stop that from happening," he added.

"It's also our openess that is under attack, the fact that many young people can meet at summer camp ... can have discussions, hold strong opinions, and can do this in safety, without the presence of police.

"It's an important quality of Norwegian society that is being attacked." Members of the ruling Labour Party's youth movement, the AUF, were the victims of the shooting massacre on Utoeya. But they insisted Saturday that they would not bow to terror.

"The AUF will not be silenced," said its leader, Eskil Pedersen, who himself is a survivor of the shootings. "Following a heinous and incomprehensible attack, we have this message: The AUF and its ideas will continue as before," he added.

Several political leaders also believe that efforts to promote democracy, openess and transparency would be enhanced following the attacks.

But 25-year-old Ivan Tarres, a souvenir seller originally from Argentina, said he feared the opposite would be true and there will be a tightening up on security even though "people here are so peaceful."

"There's a strange atmosphere here today," he said. French tourists Sophie Monnet, 28, and 30-year-old Julien Valour said they had come here for the tranquility normally associated with Norway.

"We arrived this morning and got text messages from friends saying 'Don't go there, it's dangerous,'" said Julien. "It's strange there are so many soldiers and police roadblocks here, it really changes the atmosphere," added his girlfriend.