High court set to hear protests over US Embassy move

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Activists who claim they’re mostly trying to preserve some open space in Oslo’s Huseby district will get their last chance this week to prevent the US Embassy from moving into that space. Tuesday’s appearance before Norway’s Supreme Court marks the climax of a lengthy legal battle over the embassy’s location.

For decades, the US Embassy has occupied a prime location on the fringe of downtown Oslo, just across the street from the Royal Palace and the Nobel Institute. It’s a heavily trafficked area but convenient (just up the street from Norway’s foreign ministry) and prestigious.

The embassy has been viewed as a terrorists’ target for years, though, and US officials themselves have boosted security at the site and ultimately sought to move to a new, more secure location, not least since the terrorist attacks on the US in 2001.

It hasn’t been an easy process. US officials rejected a string of new sites offered to them by their Norwegian hosts before finally settling on the Huseby site. It’s also located on a heavily trafficked road on Oslo’s west side, but the site is large and borders on Norwegian military property.

Local residents began protesting immediately after the US secured the property from the Norwegian defense department in 2003. The residents have claimed they’re not only objecting to the presence of a terrorists’ target in their neighbourhood, though. Rather they want to keep the area as open space for outdoor recreation, and they maintain city officials erred in their rezoning of the property.

The group, called Aksjon Vern Husebyskogen, (roughly translated, “Save the Huseby Forest”) thought it had acquired enough political support to block the rezoning. A sudden switch by some key politicians, however, cleared the way for a rezoning by a narrow margin. The group filed suit shortly after their stunning loss in City Hall in December 2005. They later lost at the city court and appeals level.

Now, four years later, the battle continues in Norway’s highest court. It’s been an awkward situation for both city and state officials, the latter of whom are obligated to provide embassy sites and keen to maintain good relations with US officials.

The Huseby residents, however, have pinned their hopes to what they claim was an error in the city’s handling of the rezoning. They claim that such a large project demanded a full probe into its consequences, something that wasn’t done.

US officials, including the local ambassador, have promised to be “a good neighbour” in Huseby while also threatening to demand even more stringent security measures at their existing site in town if they’re not allowed to move. That upsets current neighbours, who will gladly see the embassy leave.

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