OSLO, Aug 22 – Norway held an emotional commemoration Sunday for the 77 victims of last month’s twin attacks with survivors, relatives, royals and pop stars all remembering the country’s worst peacetime bloodshed.,
Some 6,700 people gathered in the Spektrum concert hall in Oslo in a display of unity, almost exactly a month after Anders Behring Breivik bombed the government quarter in the capital before mowing down participants at an island youth camp.
Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg urged Norwegians to help the victims’ relatives and stand by the very ideals of democracy and openness that the far-right extremist 32-year-old self-confessed killer sought to shatter.
“We will welcome home those who have strayed. But those who resort to violence, we will combat them with the full democratic arsenal. Everywhere they go, they will find us standing in their way,” he said.
“Together we have conquered hate. Together, let us embrace openness, tolerance and a sense of community,” he said.
Stoltenberg, who has been unanimously praised for his dignified and quintessentially Norwegian handling of the crisis aftermath, drew long applause from the teary audience.
The ceremony was opened by the Nordic country’s monarch and included a performance by A-Ha, the iconic Norwegian 1980s pop band that was reformed for the occasion.
“Nearly all words have been used by now,” King Harald V said, choking back tears. “These last weeks have been difficult for us, but it’s doing all of us good to be gathered here today.”
Between passages of music, Norwegian actors read aloud the names of the 77 victims, mostly young people, who perished in the attacks perpetrated by Behring Breivik on July 22.
The ceremony was directed by Haddy N’jie, born of a Gambian father and Norwegian mother, thereby representing the mixed-race society explicitly rejected by the killer.
Behring Breivik set out his hatred of Islam and Norway’s tolerance of multiculturalism in a 1,500 page document posted on the Internet before detonating a bomb in central Oslo and going on the shooting rampage on Utoeya island, where the ruling labour party was holding a summer youth camp.
During the ceremony, Adriacn Pracon, a young survivor of the Utoeya massacre Tweeted this: “No more 22.7.11. No more hate.”
The ceremony’s audience also included several foreign dignitaries, notably the presidents of Iceland and Finland, Olafur Ragnar Grimsson and Tarja Halonen, all the prime ministers of the Nordic countries, Crown Princess Victoria of Sweden and Prince Fredrik of Denmark.
On Saturday survivors from the youth camp made a difficult, first return to Utoeya, where 69 of their friends were gunned down in cold blood in the hopes of finding some closure to their ordeal.
The day before, relatives of the dead were given their opportunity to visit the island, 40 kilometers (25 miles) northwest of Oslo, where their loved ones spent their last moments alive.
As around 500 relatives made their pilgrimage on Friday, Behring Breivik made a new appearance in court, when a judge ordered him to be kept in solitary confinement for another month in the maximum security jail near Oslo where he is being held.
The gunman, who has confessed to the killings but insisted they were “cruel” but “necessary”, protested at the judge’s decision as “sadistic torture”.