Security tightens around candidates

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Norway prides itself on being an open society with accessible leaders, but a rise in threats against Norwegian politicians has boosted security to record levels in the current election campaign. Police and military intelligence forces are also dealing with special concerns about right-wing extremism.

Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg can't go anywhere anymore without bodyguards like the men standing behind him in this photo from an event outside the Parliament earlier this year. Other top politicians have also been assigned bodyguards because of perceived needs for tougher security. PHOTO: newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund

Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg can’t go anywhere anymore without bodyguards like the men standing behind him in this photo from a recent event outside the Parliament in Oslo. Other top politicians have also been assigned bodyguards because of perceived needs for tougher security. PHOTO: newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund

Tromsø-based newspaper Nordlys reported earlier this summer about how local police have had several “conversations” with people in Northern Norway suspected of having extreme right-wing views that may prompt them to use violence. The situation is the same in the southern portion of the country, with police acting on tips of extremism that have become more frequent since the deadly attacks carried out by a radical anti-Islamist in Norway two years ago.

Newspaper Bergens Tidende reported on Friday that the current parliamentary election campaign is the most heavily guarded ever. In 2008, police intelligence unit PST (Politiets sikkerhetsjeneste) spent NOK 47 million on bodyguards for politicians. This year PST is spending NOK 130 million, with special security forces set up at most campaign events. Both the main candidates for prime minister, Jens Stoltenberg and Erna Solberg, are assigned bodyguards at all times. Several other party leaders and government ministers are also often accompanied by security guards.

Siv Jensen, head of the Progress Party (Fremskrittspartiet, Frp), had no visible bodyguard with her when spotted at Oslo’s main airport at Gardermoen on Thursday, waiting for an early morning flight to Bodø. One of her fellow MPs, however, has a bodyguard after receiving death threats and she’s subject to sharper security as well, as police in general strengthen their routines after massive criticism that Norway was too open and relaxed about security.

“Politicians have higher profiles, they travel more and are more active than earlier,” Arne Overland of the state police academy told Bergens Tidende. Martin Bernsen of PST, responding to questions about unusually high security around Labour Party politicians during a campaign event in Bergen last weekend, said that “the development in general” is that more such events will have similar security measures.

Norway has two public, civilian bodyguard services in Norway. PST’s is responsible for public officials including government ministers and Members of Parliament. PST evaluates security needs and assigns bodyguards to various politicians accordingly.

A separate security service, Den kongelige politieskorte, guards members of the royal family. Another security unit is run through the defense department and is used in connection with international operations.

newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund