Police struggle to secure embassies

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Oslo has become like “flypaper” for demonstrations tied to conflicts far beyond Norway’s borders, worries a top Norwegian police official, and that’s making it harder to secure the local embassies of countries involved. Newspaper Aftenposten reports that the Norwegian Foreign Ministry doesn’t think the police are doing a good enough job when demonstrations break out.

Police apologized for vandalism at Sri Lanka's embassy, in this downtown office building, last year, saying they were outnumbered by demonstrators. PHOTO: Views and News

Oslo’s police force is charged with not only maintaining the local peace, but also that around 148 embassies, embassy offices and residences. Johan Fredriksen of the Oslo Police District says it’s difficult to maintain a high level of security at all locations at all times.

“We are aware of our responsibility,” Fredriksen told Aftenposten. “But the world has changed, and Oslo is like a piece of flypaper for all the world’s conflicts.”

New use of social media and the Internet means that news spreads and emotions are ignited much faster than ever before, Fredriksen noted, and protesters can be summoned and demonstrations can break out just as quickly. 

“The time aspect is demanding,” Fredriksen said. “This isn’t an excuse, it’s simply a clarification.”

In recent weeks Oslo police have needed to respond to demonstrations outside Iran’s embassy, which turned violent and resulted in vandalism, and outside Israel’s embassy. A demonstration against the Sri Lankan government last year also turned violent, and resulted in vandalism at Sti Lanka’s embassy downtown.

Foreign Ministry officials, charged with providing foreign countries with secure embassies in Norway, have written a letter complaining about a lack of  security to their own colleagues in the Justice Ministry (responsible for the police in Norway), reports Aftenposten. The Foreign Ministry (Utenriksdepartementet, UD) claims that “repeated incidents” around various embassies in Oslo put an “unnecessary burden” on Norway’s bilateral relations with the countries involved. 

The Foreign Ministry has received complaints from embassies that suffered damage or whose staff felt threatened. “This is something we need to avoid,” said a spokesperson for UD.

While stressing that cooperation between the police and UD generally is good, UD is asking the Justice Ministry to review the situation and propose measures for improved embassy security. 

Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund
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