At least 100,000 Norwegians attended Oslo’s “Rose March,” an anti-violence rally held in front of City Hall, on Monday evening in response to the terrorist attacks that killed at least 76 people last weekend.
Demonstrators, most of whom had been invited to the event via social networking sites, clogged the streets in Norway’s capital of 1.5 million people.
Norway’s Crown Prince Haakon and Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg gave speeches this evening that echoed the stoicism with which Norway has borne the recent tragedy. “Evil can kill one person, but it can never defeat a whole people,” said Stoltenberg.
Most people at the event carried a single red or white rose, which has quickly become ubiquitous in Oslo as a national symbol of the tragedy. The crowd raised their flowers together to Crown Prince Haakon, who said that “tonight the streets are filled with love.”
Oslo has seen a steady stream of memorials and vigils after prime suspect Anders Breivik’s deadly bomb attack against the prime minister’s building and shooting rampage at a youth camp on Utoya island near Oslo. Just hours earlier at noon on Monday close to 10,000 people gathered near the Domkirke Cathedral as part of a national moment of silence.
One of those at the rally, Annalisa Stubberud, said that individual attacks and hate crimes had galvanized Norway’s 4.6 million people in the past, but that the march was beyond anything she had seen before. “There have been attacks,” said Stubberud, “But this is different. It’s much bigger. It’s a national catastrophe as well. So I think that people have come from everywhere to join this.”
“This isn’t a time for anger. We shouldn’t respond like that,” said Liban Mohamoud, a paramedic who was among the first at the scene of the bomb blast on Friday.
Such reactions have not been universal, however. Two young men tried to attack the car reported to be carrying Breivik to his court arraignment on Monday, and outbursts of anger were seen outside of the hearing where journalists and locals gathered despite a ruling that no one was to be admitted into the courtroom.
“I saw the car, there were two policemen sitting up front and two in the back. We didn’t see who was in the middle, but it was him. He’s a nationalist. They brought him here in a car and they’re protecting him. They didn’t defend us, but they’re defending him!” said Alexander, a resident of Oslo.
The police have also increasingly come under fire after accusations that the attacks could have been prevented, or the death toll reduced, by a more timely response from law enforcement. Criticism of the security arrangements for the campers on Utoya have centered on a local anti-terrorism team’s delayed response to reports of shooting, which allowed Breivik to calmly stalk the island during a 90-minute killing spree.
The team was delayed by the lack of a helicopter, and then nearly capsized a small boat when their equipment proved too heavy, police representatives said on Monday. When the team finally reached the island, survivors were screaming “Why didn’t you come sooner?” according to local media, while the only helicopter overhead belonged to a local television agency NRK, who had responded to reports of violence on the island.
The number of missing and the final death toll on the island has also remained tentative over the last several days, prompting awkward questions about why law enforcement could not account for all those who were at the camp.
Police have maintained that the chaotic situation on Utoya and the need to focus their efforts on the wounded had made the recovery of bodies a second priority.
“We tried to take care of those in need first,“ a police spokesman said yesterday.
Yet the police admitted today that they had miscounted the number of dead, which, fortunately, resulted in a reduction of the death toll from an initial 93 to 76. The error was due to double-counting of some of the victims.
If charged with crimes against humanity, Breivik could face up to 30 years in prison, Prosecutor Chritsian Hatlo said on Tuesday.
The new charge became possible after Norway adopted a law in 2008 on war crimes and crimes against humanity.
Breivik could therefore serve more than the current maximum 21 years for terrorism-related charges.
Norwegian police are ready to disclose the names of some of those killed, NRK television company reported.
Police warned that the names would be announced gradually, “only after their relatives are notified,” Oslo police chief Arnstein Gjengedal said.