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Norway shocked into silence

Sapa-AFP | 2011-07-26 00:51:06.0
People pay their respects among a sea of floral tributes outside Oslo Cathedral yesterday. Thousands of Norwegians observed a minute's silence to remember the more than 80 killed in a bomb and shooting attack on Friday Picture: CATHAL McNAUGHTON/REUTERS

Norway fell silent yesterday in a mark of respect for the victims of a bombing and shooting rampage as the man who has admitted to the killings appeared in an Oslo court.

As the nation struggled to absorb the enormity of its worst postwar tragedy, thousands of people bowed their heads in silence outside Oslo's main university at a ceremony led by Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg and King Harald V.

"To remember the victims who died at the government's headquarters, and on the island of Utoeya, I declare a minute of silence," said Stotenberg on the stroke of midday.

He opened a book of condolence.

The country's railway stations closed and the stock market closed.

Nordic neighbours Sweden, Finland, Denmark and Iceland also held a minute's silence and flew their flags at half-mast.

"It was an attack against the very values that our countries are built on. It was an attack against all of us," said Danish Prime Minister Lars Loekke Rasmussen.

Anders Behring Breivik, 32, had admitted to Friday's attacks but did not plead guilty, said Judge Kim Heger.

Behring Breivik's lawyer, Geir Lippestad, said earlier that his client had two wishes: "The first is that the hearing be public, and the second is that he may attend in uniform."

He was refused both, the hearing being closed to the public and media.

Before the attack, Behring Breivik wrote a 1500-page manifesto, datelined London, in which he boasted that he was one of up to 80 "solo martyr cells" recruited across western Europe to topple governments tolerant of Islam.

At least seven people died in the car bombing outside the prime minister's office, a calculated distraction for the police that allowed Behring Breivik to shoot scores of youngsters attending a summer camp on the island of Utoeya, 40km away.

The official toll of island dead was 86 yesterday but the police said the figure might be revised downwards.

An emotional Stoltenberg said the full extent of the "evil" perpetrated on Friday would emerge when the victims' names and photographs were released.

Names and photographs of those killed, including the offspring of senior ruling party figures, are to be released shortly.

The premier said he knew personally many of the dead.

The tragedy also struck right at the heart of Norway's royal family. It emerged yesterday that the half-brother of Norway's Princess Mette-Marit - an off-duty policeman - was one of the victims of the gun attack.

Behring Breivik currently has the status of "official suspect". The charges against him will be formulated when the police investigation is concluded. The police are still investigating the possibility that he had accomplices.

The attacks have triggered calls for the reinstatement of the death penalty.

The maximum prison sentence in Norway is 21 years, meaning the accused, if found guilty, might serve only 82 days per killing.

Behring Breivik acknowledged in his tract that he would be deemed a "monster" but said his actions were designed to end the centuries-long Muslim colonisation of Europe.

Though he told investigators that he acted alone, prosecutors stressed that they had yet to uncover a motive - despite the manifesto's claims.

Part diary, part bomb-making manual and part Islamophobic rant, the tract details the self-styled Knight Templar's "martyrdom operation" and includes a call for Christians to have as many children as possible to generate a pool of future fighters for a war against Islam that he likened to a medieval crusade.

During his interrogation, Behring Breivik told the police that Europe's deadliest attacks since the 2004 Madrid bombings were "cruel" but "necessary". Lawyer Lippestad said his client felt he had done "nothing reprehensible".

Police have faced loud criticism because of the time it took them to reach the island - an hour.

During that hour, victims - some shot again in the head to make sure they were dead, according to witnesses - were murdered at the rate of more than one a minute.

The judge ruled that Behring Breivik be held in solitary confinement for the first four weeks of an eight-week period in custody.

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