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Anders Behring Breivik is seen on the third day of the appeal case in Borgarting Court of Appeal at Telemark prison in Skien, Norway January 12, 2017. NTB Scanpix/Lise Aaserud/via REUTERS

(reuters_tickers)

By Alister Doyle

OSLO (Reuters) - Anders Behring Breivik's massacre of 77 people still haunts Norwegians, yet ever fewer care about the neo-Nazi locked in a cell where his only "friend" is paid to visit.

Most of the 10 seats in an Oslo court for the public to watch a case about his prison conditions have been empty as Breivik sits glumly in a black suit, the first flecks of grey in his beard, appearing by video-link from a high-security jail.

The Norwegian state is appealing against a lower court ruling in 2015 that it breached a ban on "inhuman and degrading treatment" under the European Convention on Human Rights by keeping Breivik, 37, in near-isolation since the 2011 killings.

"He's being forgotten, step by step ... People are kind of done with him," said Aasne Seierstad, author "One of Us", a book about the 2011 mass murder, the worst in the Nordic nation in modern times.

It is in stark contrast to his criminal trial in 2012, covered by hundreds of reporters. At that time, Norwegians seemed riveted by his every word, horrified that a man who grew up in a peaceful Nordic society could be so radicalised.

"It's not about him any longer," Seierstad said, adding that the focus was ever more on helping survivors and relatives of the dead. But even she was surprised at the lack of interest in him during the Jan. 10-18 hearing.

In many ways, Norwegians are punishing Breivik by remembering the crime but ignoring the man, giving up trying to understand his unrepentant self-justification.

Norwegians often talk merely of "July 22", the date of the massacres, or "Utoeya", the island where he shot dead 69 people, many of them teenagers at a camp of the then ruling Labour Party, after detonating a bomb in Oslo that killed eight.

The main group for survivors and relatives of the dead has decided not to comment on this week's case. He won most coverage in Norway on the first day by making a Nazi salute.

In the case, Norway argues that it is too risky to allow Breivik contact with other inmates - he might attack them or they might attack him - and compensates him with a three-room cell with a mini-gym, television, newspapers and PlayStation.

Only one visitor calls himself a "friend", a 48-year-old priest who has met Breivik about 90 times and is paid to have free-wheeling talks on subjects chosen by Breivik, such as immigration, racism, fascism or Islam.

"It's not exactly a position I applied for," the man told the court, asking that he not be named. The two meet separated by a glass wall.

Breivik, who has spent much of the hearing shaking his head, says he wants contact with inmates to stop a drift to becoming what he called "stranger and stranger" in his cell 23 hours a day only meeting guards, health personnel and lawyers.

He spends much of his time battling dragons in video games, limited to those with a maximum age limit of 16. "A wand isn't realistic violence. The fantasy is unrealistic - there are dragons," Breivik told the court.

Breivik is also studying politics at Oslo University by correspondence. He has mostly got Cs and Bs.

He clings to a belief that he is a "commander" on the vanguard of a white supremacist revolution. By contrast, his lawyer, Oeystein Storrvik, encourages modest goals to start meeting other inmates, saying Breivik will never be freed.

"Let him play badminton," he suggested.

(Editing by Alistair Scrutton and Robin Pomeroy)

Reuters