Flags flew at half-mast all over Norway on Saturday, also at local embassies, as an unusually emotional Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg, members of the royal family and key government ministers met survivors of the country’s worst attacks since World War II. Stoltenberg, his voice breaking, told mourners and traumatized teenagers that he was conveying “warmth and support on behalf of the entire nation and the whole world.”
Stoltenberg was joined by King Harald, Queen Sonja, Crown Prince Haakon, Justice Minister Knut Storberget and Health Minister Anne-Grete Strøm-Erichsen at the makeshift center established at the Sundvollen Hotel, not far from the island called Utøya where more than 80 young Norwegians were gunned down at a Labour Party summer camp just after a powerful bomb exploded at government headquarters in downtown Oslo.
“There are many parents here who slowly but surely are beginning to realize that they will never see their own children again,” said Stoltenberg who, along with Labour Party fellow Storberget, was up all night dealing with what both called “a national tragedy.”
Norwegian newspapers were referring to Friday’s attacks in Oslo and on Utøya as Norway’s version of September 11, 2001. Some, including Dagsavisen and Aftenposten, ran gripping full-page photos of the damage with just the date: July 22, 2011.
Asked how he felt personally, Stoltenberg said he was in pain, but that he had another important message: “I tried to convey support and warmth on behalf of the entire nation and the whole world.” While many heads of state have called Stoltenberg to express condolences on the attacks that have left 91 persons confirmed dead, several hanging on to life in hospitals and others seriously injured, thousands of persons from around the globe have sent messages of sympathy and support to Norwegian websites including this one.
“The world seems to feel for Norway now, but that won’t bring back the lives that have been lost,” the prime minister said, adding that he knew many of the victims and their parents personally. Health Minister Erichsen reportedly has also lost colleagues, since the ministry she leads was housed in a building among the hardest hit by the bomb that went off at 3:26pm on Friday afternoon.
The royals and government ministers listened to how terrified members of Labour’s youth organization AUF tried to flee the gunman who went on a shooting spree disguised as a police officer. Police have arrested a 32-year-old Norwegian right-wing extremist for both the massacre and the bombing and some Norwegian websites reported they were seeking a possible second gunman. Police later claimed that was incorrect.
Stoltenberg told reporters that the massacre went on for around two hours, a horrific experience “that will plague me and those who experienced it for the rest of their lives.” But both he, AUF leader Eskil Pedersen who survived the ordeal and others claimed, however, that “we will take Utøya back,” and that they wouldn’t allow themselves to be scared off by the tragedy.
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