Police braced for demonstrations

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UPDATED: Police in Oslo took up positions around the US  and French embassies, the French school and the central square, Youngstorget, on Friday as various Muslim organizations protested what they consider to be insulting characterizations of their prophet Mohammed. US officials had warned US citizens to stay away from the area around their embassy on Friday afternoon.

The US Embassy was to be under extra police protection on Friday. PHOTO: Views and News

In what they called a “Security Message” sent out on Thursday to Americans registered at the US Embassy in Oslo, officials warned of the “two demonstrations planned for this Friday September 21 from 1600 to 1700 hours.”

The one near the embassy was still going on shortly after 5pm, but down the street from the embassy itself and behind security fences. The area immediately around the embassy had been cordoned off with various police vehicles in place.

Around 75 demonstrators turned up around 4pm, chanting slogans like “Obama, Obama, we love Osama.” Their demonstration included Arab music, speeches and group prayer. They were outnumbered by the police on hand.

The embassy had called attention first to the demonstration planned to take place across the street from its chancellery on Henrik Ibsens gate, alongside the western fence of the park around the Royal Palace. “Its purpose is to protest the video ‘Innocence of the Muslims,’ objection to which has been reported as the reason behind many of the protests currently occurring at US diplomatic facilities around the world,” read the message. The US Ambassador to Libya and several other American diplomats were killed in a violent protest last week that involved an attack on the US consulate in Benghazi.

‘Avoid the areas’
The embassy also referred to the demonstration planned by the Islamic Council of Norway (IRN) at Youngstorget, a few kilometers away in downtown Oslo, “also to address their concerns about the implications of recent events.”

Embassy officials noted the Oslo Police would be “monitoring both events and will be present at the demonstrations.” They warned, however, that “even demonstrations intended to be peaceful can turn confrontational and can possibly escalate into violence.”

The embassy therefore wrote that US citizens “should avoid the areas of both demonstrations if possible, and exercise caution if within the vicinity of any demonstration.”

‘Please join in’
Methab Afsar, secretary general of the Islamic Council (Islamsk Råd), sent the opposite message, urging Muslims and non-Muslims alike to take part in the demonstration at Youngstorget. It ended up attracting a far bigger crowd, with police estimating the turnout at around 3,500.

Afsar told  Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) that he and his colleagues had asked demonstrators to carry a rose, like Norwegians have done during demonstrations of solidarity and support after last year’s terrorist attacks. Afsar also said he hoped the demonstrations would be peaceful, and they were.

“The American film ridicules Muslims and we must say what we think about that,” he told NRK. He stressed that the demonstration was open to all, including non-Muslims. Both Oslo Bishop Odd Christian Kvarme and Oslo Mayor Fabian Stang took part.

A more radical group, led by the controversial Arfan Bhatti, was behind the demonstration outside the US Embassy. Police were also out in force at Youngstorget and around the French Embassy and the French school in Oslo on Friday afternoon. A French magazine’s publication of more cartoons ridiculing the Muslims’ prophet has led French officials to close French embassies, consulates and schools in several countries.

Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund

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