Security high for ‘Peace Prize Days’

The barricades around Oslo’s City Hall, armed police on the streets and military helicopters whirring overhead seemed at odds with the message of peace that’s always sent from the Norwegian capital on December 10th. Security was high, though, on this year’s Nobel Peace Prize Day as government leaders from all over Europe streamed into town Monday morning.

Three military helicopters flew in formation over Oslo’s waterfront and circled over the fjord until one of them landed just before 9am at Filipstad, close to the heavily fortified City Hall where the Nobel Peace Prize would be awarded to the European Union (EU) at 1pm. Air space over the city was otherwise closed but the scene was likely to be repeated throughout the morning, as government leaders including German Chancellor Angela Merkel, French President Francois Hollande and even Italian Prime Minister Mario Monti were being whisked into Oslo. Monti was still expected to attend the Nobel ceremony, even though he signaled over the weekend that he intends to resign after losing support of the party headed by would-be successor Silvio Berlusconi.

Diplomatic challenge
The government leaders of more than 20 of the EU’s 27 member states, including those of deeply troubled Greece, Spain and Portugal, opted to travel to Oslo to watch their beleaguered but proud organization receive the Nobel Peace Prize. And they don’t travel alone. Accompanied by aides and advisers, and met by their country’s ambassadors and staff based in Norway, the international delegation at this year’s Nobel ceremony has posed huge challenges for the protocol department of Norway’s foreign ministry, charged with organizing all the guests, hopefully without diplomatic blunders.

Various meetings were being held throughout the morning but all guests were to be in their seats at City Hall well before the ceremony was to begin, to make sure the EU’s three top officials who’ll formally accept the prize could make a dignified entrance, accompanied by the Norwegian Nobel Committee, with members of the Norwegian royal family traditionally arriving last.

Meeting the king
EU President Herman Van Rompuy, EU Commission President Jose Manuel and the president of the EU Parliament, Martin Schulz would be meeting King Harald and his family at the Royal Palace at noon, after attending a children’s event at the Nobel Peace Center and before heading for City Hall. Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg, meanwhile, was hosting a “working lunch” after the ceremony at the ornate Gamle Logen adjacent to the Akershus Fortress and Castle for the EU trio and all the government leaders, “to discuss the economic situation in Europe,” according to his office. Stoltenberg would also have “bilateral talks” with Merkel, Monti, Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenny and Van Rompuy on Monday.

Foreign Minister Espen Barth Eide would be attending another luncheon at the Oslo Concert House held by the EU Commission’s delegation, while Oslo Mayor Fabian Stang planned to attend a buffet luncheon at City Hall for around 200 EU guests immediately following the ceremony.

Several streets were blocked or cordoned off in downtown Oslo in connection with all the VIPs in town. Armed police were due to be stationed around the city and the Romanian beggars who have become a fixture on city streets during the past year were suddenly absent Monday morning. The city streets seemed to have been subject to a massive security sweep.

Another torchlight parade
A torchlight parade honouring the Peace Prize winners was also still due to take place from around 6pm, ending in the square outside the Grand Hotel where the Peace Prize winners stay. Its traditional organizers had withdrawn this year to hold a protest march instead, because of objections over the Norwegian Nobel Committee’s decision to choose the EU as winner, but several other groups then took over as arrangers. It was expected to hail the winners shortly before 7pm, when they appear on the hotel’s balcony before attending the Nobel banquet inside.

Most of the government leaders will travel home late Monday afternoon, but the Norwegian government will also host a breakfast meeting on Tuesday for the EU winners staying overnight. They’re also expected to attend the annual Nobel Concert at the Oslo Spektrum areana Tuesday evening, which will feature performers including Kylie Minogue, Carpe Diem and Jennifer Hudson.

Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund

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