Labour suffers yet another big loss

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Labour Party officials and many others were mourning the death during the weekend of Hans Kristian Amundsen, a former newspaper editor and top adviser to Jens Stoltenberg when Stoltenberg was prime minister of Norway. Amundsen, best known for articulating a nation’s sorrow after the July 22 terror attacks in 2011, was found dead after failing to return from a jogging tour near his home at Skoganvarre in Finnmark.

Hans Kristian Amundsen played a major role in Norway’s response to the terrorist attacks of July 22,2011, and served as former prime minister Jens Stoltenberg’s closest adviser. He was found dead Sunday evening, after failing to return home from a joggiing trek. PHOTO: Arbeiderpartiet

Police told newspaper VG that Amundsen’s body was found in open terrain not far from the two-lane E6 highway at Skoganvarre in Porsanger, located between Lakselv and Karasjok. His wife Karen Marie Berg, a journalist for state broadcaster NRK, had reported him missing around 7pm when he didn’t come home after jogging.

“Now everything is dark,” Berg wrote on behalf of their family on social media Monday. “Our beloved papa and sweetheart died yesterday. He went out jogging and never came back. I can’t fathom how we’re supposed to live on without you, but you will be with us every day.”

Police don’t suspect any foul play. “We believe he died of natural causes, of an unknown and unexpected illness,” Svein Erik Jacobsen, operations leader in the Finnmark Police District, told VG. He said police had no cause of death pending a possible autopsy.

Labour’s latest loss
It’s another major, personal loss for Labour and not least for the now-NATO Secretary General Stoltenberg, whose father died just two over two weeks ago, the day after Stoltenberg led a dramatic NATO Summit. Thorvald Stoltenberg’s funeral will be held on Thursday, not long after the funeral of another former Labour Party minister, John Henry T. Olsen. Olsen had been fisheries minister in the 1990s and led the seafood export negotiations with the European Union that helped seal Norway’s trade deal with the EU after Norwegian voters turned down membership in the EU. Olsen later became ill with what’s believed to have been Alzheimer’s Disease at an early age, was open about his illness and helped ease the stygma of dementia and its effect on loved ones.

Amundsen (far right) specialized in handling crises. He was typically in place during this press conference when then-Foreign Minister Espen Barth Eide (left) and Stoltenberg had to handle another terrorist attack, on a Statoil facility in Algeria, just 18 months after the attacks of July 22, 2011. PHOTO: Statsministerens kontor

Amundsen, who attended Olsen’s funeral, was just 58 when he died sometime late Sunday afternoon. An already-grieving Stoltenberg called Amundsen’s death “deeply tragic,” telling state broadcaster NRK that Amundsen deserved much of the credit for how Norway reacted to the deadly attacks by a right-wing extremist seven years ago. Amundsen, who served as both press chief and state secretary for Stoltenberg, wrote the speech Stoltenberg delivered that won praise both at home and abroad for its conciliatory tone and statements that brought the country together in time of tragedy.

The two were also close friends: “We met at AUF (Labour’s youth organization that was the target of the 2011 attacks) in the 1970s and we worked together in the prime minister’s office (when Gro Harlem Brundtland was premier). His role  on July 22, 2011 and the time after that meant a lot for how Norway handled the attack and the tragedy. The cooperation Hans Kristian and I had at that time was critical for me personally, and we have been very close since.”

Stoltenberg called Amundsen “a full-fledged social democrat whose ability to formulate important issues was outstanding. He was proud of his background from Finnmark.” The two had shared dinner and an evening at the popular Oslo bar and restaurant Lorry’s just last weekend, ahead of the seventh anniversary memorial ceremony to victims and survivors of the attacks in 2011.

Amundsen (black T-shirt) also advised Jonas Gahr Støre when he was foreign minister, here during a trip to the US in 2012. PHOTO: Arbeiderpartiet

Jonas Gahr Støre, the currently beleaguered Labour Party leader, told NRK that the entire Labour Party was in sorrow. “It’s unreal that he has died,” Støre told NRK. “I’m left with many good memories from our close cooperation and friendship, and deep gratitude for the contribution he made to Labour over many years. He had an enormous capacity for hard work. We are in mourning, Hans Kristian will be greatly missed.”

Amundsen, who said he grew up in poor conditions as a child in Finnmark, went on to become a journalist, working for newspaper Dagbladet and later becoming editor in chief of the Tromsø newspaper Nordlys. He became a full-time politician for Labour in 2011, first as a state secretary in the fisheries ministry and, within a few months, the prime minister’s office where he was considered Stoltenberg’s closest adviser.

He continued working for Labour after the party lost its bid for a third term of running the government  in 2013. He became leader of the secretariat for Labour’s delegation in Parliament but resigned in January after reported problems cooperating with Labour Party Secretary Kjersti Stenseng. The party had also lost another election last fall and continued to lose voter support, not least after its deputy leader Trond Giske was forced to resign after being charged with sexual harassment. Amundsen was due to release a book this autumn about the dramatic month following the July 22 attacks. He had just taken on a new post as a top executive at railroad firm BaneNor in Oslo, in charge of communications and community contact.

Amundsen and his wife had five children. Funeral arrangements were pending.

newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund