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Thursday, July 18, 2024

Stoltenberg vows improvements

Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg has promised major improvements to Norway’s emergency preparedness, after receiving official confirmation on Monday that the country was poorly prepared for last summer’s terrorist attacks. He apologized that approved security measures hadn’t been implemented before the attacks occurred, while police acknowledged severe weaknesses in their own response.

Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg, shown here receiving the July 22 Commission's report on the response to last year's terrorist attacks, admitted that portions of the report are "uncomfortable." He vowed improvements to Norway's emergency preparedness. PHOTO: Statsministerens kontor (SMK)

“We got what we asked for,” Stoltenberg said in referring to receipt of a highly critical report on how Norway responded to last year’s attacks. He readily admitted that some portions of the report by a commission he had appointed himself were “uncomfortable.”

He said he was most sorry that the street leading through the government complex, Grubbegata, hadn’t been blocked off as recommended repeatedly for years. There had been local resistance to closing the street from city politicians, who wanted to keep the government area of downtown open and accessible, and preserve a popular bus line through the area. It was, however, within the purview of the state to close the street and that hadn’t happened, allowing the terrorist to drive his bomb-laden bomb right up to government ministries including Stoltenberg’s own office, which was among those heavily damaged in the attacks.

Stoltenberg said he also was sorry that terrorist Anders Behring Breivik hadn’t been seized earlier, which the commission believes could have been possible if police had acted on a firm and detailed tip from a passerby who witnessed Breivik fleeing in a getaway car. Instead, the tip was ignored for as long as 20 minutes in the chaos following the bombing on July 22 last year. That allowed enough time for Breivik to head for the island of Utøya to carry out the next phase of his attack, a massacre at Utøya’s summer camp for young members of Stoltenberg’s Labour Party.

Accepting the criticism
Stoltenberg, who won praise for his leadership during the tragedy last year, now seems willing to accept the criticism for the nation’s lack of preparedness, not least on the part of the police. The police in Norway are under state jurisdiction, with the Justice Ministry ultimately responsible for their funding and operations. That in turn leaves the Prime Minister’s office responsible, since it has jurisdiction over the Justice Ministry.

“The commission’s report reveals widespread problems within the police,” Stoltenberg told reporters on Monday. “This is serious.” Stoltenberg already has replaced the former justice minister, and added “preparedness” to the new minister’s title. He said he now has already asked her, Grete Faremo, to tackle the criticism against the police in the report, and follow through on its recommendations for improvements.

“Our responsibility for security and preparedness in the ministry will be strengthened and clarified,” Stoltenberg said.

Chastened police
Police officials, meanwhile, appeared chastened on Monday, with state police director Øystein Mæland calling it “a very tough day for the police.” He said the police accepted the commission’s findings that faster action had been possible, and that the terrorist could have been stopped earlier. While their own internal investigation had resulted in the police claiming they had acted as quickly as they could, the commission’s conclusion was that the amount of time they used was “unacceptable.”

“That’s a tough conclusion … I feel the heavy responsibility for what went wrong within the police,” said Mæland, who assumed his post just two months before the attacks last year. He said the police were taking the criticism against them seriously “and will strive to address what’s been pointed out.”

Stoltenberg, however, remained the man who was taking most of the heat on Monday, a sharp contrast to the accolades he’s received earlier. Asked whether either he or any of his other ministers should resign as a result of the critical commission report, Stoltenberg said he thought it was better that he stick around to make sure the report is followed up and that preparedness is improved.

“I have responsibility for what functioned and didn’t function on July 22 last year,” Stoltenberg said. “Now it’s my responsibility to take responsibility for taking action now.”

Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund

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