Barack Obama sure knows how to draw a crowd. Police estimated that around 10,000 persons filled the streets around Oslo’s Grand Hotel Thursday evening, most armed with flaming torches, to pay tribute to Obama and his wife Michelle after he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize earlier in the day.
People started gathering in the plaza across the street from the hotel round 3pm, just after the Nobel Peace Prize Ceremony ended in nearby City Hall. By 6pm the plaza was already full, even before the annual torchlight parade honoring the Peace Prize winner started moving towards the hotel where the prize winners always stay.
It took the marchers around a half-hour to reach the plaza, followed by hundreds more of demonstrators who’d hoped to catch Obama’s attention. Most of them never made it into the plaza, but stayed calm and even cheerful as they called for everything from an end to nuclear weapons to more human rights in Iran and bringing troops home from Afghanistan.At 7pm the Obamas finally appeared on a hotel balcony, specially fortified with bullet-proof glass for the occasion. They waved to the crowd for just a few minutes before disappearing back into the hotel to attend the Nobel Banquet also held in their honor.
The crowd roared their approval, thousands of cameras flashed and the applause and cheers made it clear that the Obamas have a lot of fans in Oslo. Even the demonstrators cheered, with one commentator for Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) saying their behaviour was “unusually exemplary.”There were police officers everywhere, though, after the Oslo Police District had mounted its largest security operation in Norwegian history. Police spokesmen said they were pleased with the day’s events, mostly because there were no events to worry about.
The day was full of ceremony for the Obamas, starting at the Nobel Institute in the morning and culminating in the Peace Prize Ceremony itself at City Hall. The richly decorated reception hall was filled to capacity, with around 1,000 guests on hand to hear Norwegian soprano Solveig Kringlebotn and pianist Håvard Gimse perform Grieg classics, followed by Chinese pianist Lang Lang playing Chopin and Lizst. Bass singer Esperanza Spalding, reportedly on hand after a special request from Obama, also performed along with a trio of fellow musicians.
In the audience were several of the artists due to perform at the annual Nobel Concert Friday evening, which the Obamas would miss because they were to fly back to Washington Friday morning. Among them were Will Smith and his wife Jada Pinkett Smith, Wyclef Jean and Donna Summer.
Obama said that after having “totally exhausted myself” with his lengthy acceptance speech at the Nobel Ceremony, he made only short remarks after the banquet. He spoke, though, of the “extraordinary power” of the Nobel Peace Prize, how it lifted up the cause of civil rights when Martin Luther King, for example, won it in 1964.
Addressing the Norwegian Nobel Committee and past committee members in the crowd, he said “The world thanks you for the work that you do.”
And he raised a skål to Alfred Nobel.