Politicians debate security measures

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Nine months after a terrorist’s bomb severely damaged Norway’s government headquarters and left eight people dead, the street running by the country’s Parliament building just a few blocks away remains open to traffic. Neither city nor state politicians have ordered the street blocked off, and they’re still debating other security measures as well.

This was the scene outside the Norwegian Parliament (Stortinget) on Tuesday. The street running behind the back entrance to the parliament and its office building for MPs remained open, also for trucks like this one. Several MPs have complained about the lack of security and want the street blocked off, while others want to keep the building open and accessible. PHOTO: Views and News

Nor have any new, visible security structures been placed around the nearby Royal Palace (Slottet), which terror defendant Anders Behring Breivik has testified in court was another of his potential targets along with the Parliament (Stortinget).

A special commission on the vulnerability of Norwegian public buildings has been set up and a search for a new security chief for the government complex in downtown Oslo is underway. Many Norwegian politicians, though, seem reluctant to impose visible security measures and are determined to maintain the country’s traditional accessibility of both buildings and themselves. They want Norway to remain what they call an “open society,” despite the terrorism threat and the attacks the country has now experienced.

No ‘fortress’ desired
Per-Kristian Foss, a former finance minister and long-time Member of Parliament for the Conservative Party (Høyre), confirmed reports in newspaper Bergens Tidende on Wednesday that parliamentary officials are considering a variety of new security measures. They include the introduction of new security controls at entrances to the building in the heart of Oslo, conducting more thorough background checks on Stortinget’s employees, arming Stortinget’s security guards or even asking the police to take over responsibility for security of the country’s national assembly. They also may prevent the public from carrying liquids into the building.

“But Stortinget shall not become a fortress,” Foss told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) on Wednesday morning. Dag Terje Andersen, the current president of the parliament and a former cabinet minister himself from the Labour Party, also stressed that new security measures will be as discreet as possible.

“I don’t want any ‘Fortress Storting’ either,” Andersen said. “We will continue to be an open parliament, while security is taken care of.”

Nervous MPs
Several MPs from various political parties have turned to local media in the months following the July 22 attacks to criticize what they consider a lack of security at their workplace. Some get nervous as they watch cars and trucks drive right up alongside their office windows, and many were alarmed when it took Oslo police two-and-a-half hours to secure the building after the bomb went off outside the nearby government headquarters. The parliament itself was spared any major damage.

Interest in the vacant position of security chief for the government complex, meanwhile, is said to be high after the former chief resigned following the pressure after last summer’s attacks. Newspaper Dagsavisen reported that the new chief will be in charge of 190 security personnel and play a key role in planning and implementing new security measures, for a salary of between NOK 736,500 and NOK 960,500 (about USD 150,000).

There had been efforts to close the street that ran through the government complex and which Brevik used when driving his car bomb up to the entrance of the high-rise containing the justice ministry and the prime minister’s office. City officials didn’t want to close the street, though, not least because it was on the route of a popular cross-town bus line. Breivik testified that he followed the political debate closely at the time, and knew he could use the street to his advantage.

Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund

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