Bieber concert chaos ‘frightening’

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The head of Oslo’s Opera House and top city officials were still upset and even “frightened” after a free concert by Canadian teen idol Justin Bieber unleashed mass chaos and left 88 persons injured on Wednesday. Opera boss Tom Remlov claims Bieber’s managers violated the terms of their contract, while the head of Oslo’s city government was blasting their lack of preparation.

There's only one small bridge leading into Oslo's Opera House, its plaza and rooftop areas, shown at left, and the area thus couldn't accommodate the hordes of teenagers who tried to jam into the free Justin Bieber concert on Wednesday. He performed from a portable stage anchored in the water. PHOTO: Views and News

Remlov, managing director of the Norwegian Opera & Ballet, which operates the state-owned Opera House, claimed on Thursday that officials from Bieber’s record company Universal misled him about their plans for the concert.

“We experienced this as a frightening event,” Remlov told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK). “Universal clearly had no control or any idea about the size of the event. The security plans they had presented to us in advance didn’t function at all.”

Remlov said Bieber’s backers had told him that 4,000 tickets would be handed out to the public and that only those with tickets would be allowed in,” Remlov told NRK. “The way things turned out constitute a resounding contract violation.”

Police estimate that around 20,000 people, most of the screaming young girls and teenagers, descended on the area around the Opera, with thousands arriving as early as 2pm for a concert that was only rumoured and then, once confirmed, wasn’t scheduled to begin until 9:20pm. By late afternoon, the outdoor plaza and rooftop areas of the landmark, white marble Opera House that opened in 2008 were already packed, with thousands more outside security fences and demanding to be let in.

This winter view shows the bridge that was overwhelmed when 20,000 teenagers tried to make their way onto the Opera plaza and roof. On Thursday, another outdoor concert was being held at the Opera to celebrate the king's and queen's 75th birthdays, but it was expected to be more subdued than the Justin Bieber concert. PHOTO: Views and News

That led to severe and highly unexpected crowd control challenges for police, who hadn’t been told or able to prepare for the magnitude of the event. Remlov said that he wanted to stop the concert, for safety reasons.

“I was within my full rights to stop the concert, and I said at one point that I wanted it to be cancelled,” Remlov told NRK. “But because of the circumstances that had developed, a cancellation probably would have made matters worse and cause even greater danger to those who were there.”

As it was, 88 persons were injured or fainted in the crowds. Red Cross personnel who were called in handed out water bottles to dehydrated teenagers who’d been standing outdoors for hours, and treated 78 persons at the scene, mostly for minor injures like cuts and bruises. Ten persons were taken to a local emergency clinic.

Asked whether the Opera roof was a suitable venue for such a concert, Vivian Paulsen of the Red Cross told newspaper Aftenposten “no, not for so many people when there hadn’t been better planning. I don’t know what went wrong, but it seemed there was no planning for all the people who showed up. I think most people were surprised.”

No one more than Remlov, who said Universal officials had insisted the concert be kept a secret until just before it would be held. “We knew about it around three weeks ago,” Remlov said. “If we had known what it would be like, we never would have allowed it to occur.”

‘A huge, dramatic miscalculation’
Stian Birger Røsland, head of Oslo’s city government, told newspaper VG “there is no doubt someone made a huge miscalculation here, a dramatic miscalculation.” He was demanding a full evaluation of what happened, and how, and said the police could not be blamed since they also seemed kept in the dark about what kind of interest the concert would spark.

Petter Singsaas, head of Universal in Norway, claims the record company had close contact with security firm ProSec and police and that they thought they’d taken the necessary precautions. He admitted, though, that the turnout for Justin Bieber was far greater than they’d expected.

“We had never dreamed this would be such a huge event,” Singsaas told VG. “There has been extreme reaction in the city and that complicated logistics.”

He understands he faces harsh criticism from city officials. Fans, meanwhile, also told harrowing tales of fearing they’d be crushed in the crowd. One 13-year-old girl told newspaper Aften that Wednesday was one of the worst and best days of her life.

“There was a lot of chaos, we saw a flood of people storming over the bridge (into the Opera area) and we were afraid we’d be crushed,” Rikke Aslaksen Wåle told Aften. But she wound up with so-called VIP tickets that allowed her into a space up front. Suddenly, finally, her idol was only around eight meters in front of her.

“I’ve been a fan for a really long time,” she said. “He was just as handsome and sweet as always. It was the best hour in my whole life.”

Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund

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