Politicians react to weekend violence

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Oslo police logged more than 20 incidents of street violence in Oslo during the weekend, and that was topping the agenda of an already-planned high-level meeting on youth crime. Several of the incidents appeared to be unprovoked attacks on random victims in the Nowegian capital.

Police had a busy weekend in Oslo, with what they called an unusually high amount of unprovoked street violence against random victims. PHOTO: Justisdepartementet

Police reported late Sunday that they’d arrested five suspects after a man in his 20s was attacked by a gang of teenagers on Slemdalsveien near Majorstuen late Saturday night. Police said the victim was beaten and kicked in the head several times.

“All indications are that this was a completely unprovoked attack,” Tor Jøkling, operations leader for the Oslo Police District, told newspaper VG. “There are no signs the man was robbed of anything.”

It followed a string of other attacks that began Friday night. Police described large groups of young men who with no warning launched assaults on individuals and smaller groups of people out on the town. Most of the attacks occurred in the downtown Oslo area, with as many as 20 people involved in one brawl at Youngstorget. Others took place at Bøler and Romsås before the attack on Slemdalsveien at around 2am on Sunday.

Political finger-pointing
Politicians quickly pointed fingers at one another, with the leader of the conservative opposition on the Oslo City Council accusing city government leader Raymond Johansen of the Labour Party of “losing control over the violent developments in Oslo.” Eirik Lae Solberg called on the city to give more support to the civilian volunteer group Natteravnene that informally patrols urban areas, tries to help drunks and ward off fights.

Johansen quickly lashed back by blaming the conservative state government for not providing police with enough funding, despite budget increases. He acknowledged to newspaper Aftenposten on Monday that it was “completely unacceptable that a gang with a few young members scares folks in the city with random violence and threats.”

Youth gangs and violence were already on the agenda of a meeting planned between Johansen and Justice Minister Jørann Kallmyr of the conservative Progress Party on Monday. “Fighting crime is the responsibility of the police, but we also need to take responsibility for trying to prevent it,” Johansen said before it began.

Police seemed puzzled by the spike in attacks over the weekend. As Aftenposten noted, there were no major public events during the weekend and even the weather was cold and rainy, far from the warm summer nights that police say can increase the risk of violence. When they prepared weekend patrols, there was nothing special they needed to take into consideration, only to end up faced with “an unusually large” number of injured victims, some of them seriously.

‘We need immediate action’
The Oslo police, which like all police units around Norway are under the jurisdiction of the state justice ministry, “must have enough resources to strike back at the violence we’re now seeing and we need immediate action,” Johansen wrote in a text message to Aftenposten.

Kallmyr and some of his political colleagues initially responded by also calling the wave of violence “totally unacceptable,” proposing tougher measures against juvenile offenders and even cutting welfare payments to their parents. “We must restrict their movements, without hindering them from staying in school or job-training programs,” Kallmyr told state broadcaster NRK. “Too many have dropped out of school and they have to be taken of the streets of Oslo. They have to have something to make them get up in the morning and make a contribution.”

Johansen stressed that the youth violence must be made a priority. “Oslo is and shall be a safe city, only a few resort to violence like this,” Johansen insisted in his message to Aftenposten. They’re the ones who need the most police attention, he said.

newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund