Demonstrators to greet Obama

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Air Force One is now due to land at Oslo’s main airport at Gardermoen at the end of the morning rush hour on Thursday. US President Barack Obama, heading for Oslo to collect his Nobel Peace Prize, may take a helicopter into town, where a busy program awaits along with demonstrators from around the world. They’ll also be vying for the attention of Obama, whose schedule for his Oslo visit has changed once again.

Members of the Norwegian Nobel Committee, official hosts for Obama, are having to be extremely flexible and patient. It’s not easy planning a party when handlers for the guest of honor keep changing his schedule.

On Saturday the committee was told Obama won’t be arriving in Oslo on Wednesday the 9th after all. Instead, it now appears Air Force One will land at Oslo’s main airport at Gardermoen on Thursday morning the 10th, the day the Peace Prize is always awarded because it’s the anniversary of benefactor Alfred Nobel’s death.

The program as of Monday afternoon called for Obama to land at Gardermoen at 8:45am, at which point he’ll take a helicopter into town if the weather is good. If not, he’ll make the roughly 40-minute drive in his own limousine (also being flown to Oslo for the occasion), meaning late commuters on the E6 highway may face road closures.

Geir Lundestad, director of the Nobel Institute in Oslo, bravely insisted that the shortened visit will still allow time for Obama to meet the Nobel Committee at the Institute Thursday morning, hold talks with Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg and visit King Harald V at the Royal Palace, all before the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony starts at precisely 1pm.

Obama, however, won’t have time for lunch with the king nor will he stop by the Nobel Peace Center to see an exhibit on his life and that of earlier Peace Prize winner Martin Luther King. Center officials are disappointed, but said the public can come instead.

‘Free’ afternoon

Obama and his delegation have taken over three hotels in downtown Oslo, much of which will be cordoned off for the duration of his stay. No official appearances are scheduled between the Peace Prize ceremony itself and the Nobel Banquet at 7pm, because Obama “needs to run the business of the USA,” Lundestad said.

Obama himself is due to stay at the Grand Hotel, where the Peace Prize winner traditionally stays and makes an appearance on the hotel balcony just before the banquet, to wave to peace marchers holding flaming torches.

This year the marchers will be restricted to the plaza across the street from the hotel, and must share the space with demonstrators who will be urging Obama to pull troops out of Afghanistan, eliminate nuclear weapons, stop Israeli settlements in occupied territories and control the arms trade.

Around 20 organizations and individuals have sought permission to demonstrate during Obama’s visit, with some flying in from as far away as New Zealand.

As many as 2,500 police officers will be in the streets. Many will be blocked around Oslo City Hall, the Nobel Institute and US Embassy on Henrik Ibsens Gate, and outside the Grand Hotel. Several bus and tram lines will be halted in those areas on Thursday.

(See also our News Roundup , for more items related to Obama’s visit.)